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No word on Pine Hills post office as Delaware Avenue station prepares to close

December 23, 2010

by Kathleen Roark

The Pine Hills Postal Station is located at 5 South Allen Street. (Kathleen Roark)

The Pine Hills neighborhood is still waiting for a decision on the fate of its postal station, which the U.S. Postal Service had identified last year for possible closure.

For Pine Hills residents, this may be a case of no news is good news. If the Postal Service also decides to close Pine Hills Station, the nearest facilities will be the Academy Station, which is 0.88 miles away on New Scotland Avenue and the Fort Orange Station, which is located 1.07 miles away on Central Avenue. The Postal Service has announced that the Delaware Avenue postal station will close December 31.

However, for Pine Hills residents the closing of their postal station would mean more than a longer trip; it would also mean a loss of a community gathering spot. “The post office is more than a building with a counter and boxes,” said Jill Harbeck, a Pine Hills resident. “It still serves as a community center of sorts, where neighbors run into each other, and the postmaster gets to know the patrons personally.”

Small business owners also would be affected if this site closes. Mel Feldman, a Pine Hills resident, runs an online business selling smoking pipes from his home on Western Avenue, and he is a frequent user of the Pine Hills Station. Closing this location would impact his business and force him to travel further to send packages to his customers.

Last fall, Feldman stood outside the postal station with a “do not close my post office” petition. He collected approximately 1,000 signatures over a two week period.

“People were more than willing to sign. There was no begging,” Feldman said.

Feldman gave copies of his petition to representatives of the Postal Service at meeting in November 2009 at the Elks Lodge. This meeting was for Albany residents regarding the proposed postal station closings.  Feldman said he did not think most of the Postal Service representatives at the meeting were familiar with the Pine Hills Station or the impact its closing would have on the community.

This opinion is shared by Harbeck. “Those of us there got the impression that the people making the decision live in a different environment than Pine Hills . . .  they all have cars,” she said. “They don’t realize what it’s like to live without one and how what is convenient by car isn’t so convenient by foot or by bus.”

After the meeting, Harbeck sent a letter to the Postal Service to advocate for the Pine Hills Station, and, in response, she received a form letter stating that if the postal station does close, there would be other convenient locations she could use. Harbeck does not own a car and rents one of the 220 post office boxes at Pine Hills Station. If this facility closes, she estimates it will take her    20 to 30 minutes to walk to and from the next nearest postal station to collect her mail.

“If someone had to drive that long to get their mail, I wonder if they would consider that convenient,” she said.

The Pine Hills Postal Station has 220 post office boxes. (Kathleen Roark)

Harbeck also stated that a significant number of Pine Hills residents do not own cars or are elderly and it would be more difficult for them to access postal services as well.

These concerns are similar to those of Delaware Avenue neighborhood residents, who are appealing the decision to close their postal station.  Susan DuBois, treasurer for the Delaware Area Neighborhood Association, also said that for the disabled and other people who may have difficulty getting around, it is practical to live in a walkable neighborhood where key services like a postal station are available.

The relocation of services for the Delaware Station patrons also potentially means accessing postal services could be more expensive. Delaware Station patrons who rent post office boxes were told that their boxes will be relocated to the post office on Hudson Avenue. For individuals who do not own cars and are able to walk to the Delaware Station now, they will have to pay for bus fare if they are not able to make the nearly three mile round trip by foot.

The concerns cited by city residents are supported by a report from the Urban Institute on the social value of postal services. The report was commissioned by the Postal Regulatory Commission, which oversees the U.S. Postal Service.

The Urban Institute found that if an accessible post office closes, the disabled and the elderly “would have difficulty accessing postal services because they would need to make a long or complicated journey by public transportation to reach the post office.” The report also stated that individuals without cars or with low to moderate incomes benefit from having a post office near their homes. In addition, the Urban Institute cited a study that suggests post offices help generate economic activity and maintain property values in a community.

As Pine Hills residents did, the Delaware Station patrons also signed a petition and wrote letters. “The response was non-committal in some ways and downplaying our concerns in others,” DuBois said.

The Postal Service acknowledges that not everyone is supportive of their efforts to consolidate services. “We are sensitive to the emotions that are attached to local postal facilities and recognize that change, any change, can be difficult,” said Maureen Marion, a public relations and communications manager for the Postal Service.

The Postal Service placed approximately 330 postal stations nationwide on a list for review for closure or consolidation. Postal stations provide only retail services, such as stamp sales and post office box rentals. There are no letter carriers associated with such facilities.  Within the city of Albany, the Academy station on New Scotland Avenue was included for review, in addition to the Pine Hills and Delaware locations.  According to Maggie Mouawad, supervisor of customer service for the Albany Post Office, the Academy Station is no longer on the list.

The purpose of this review is to see if the retail services can be relocated without compromising service, said Marion, the spokesperson for the Postal Service.

The goal of consolidating services is to save money. The Postal Service lost $8.5 billion in the fiscal year which ended September 30. Total mail volume declined from 176.7 billion in 2009 to 170.6 billion in 2010. The recession and the impact of electronic media were factors.  Although information was not available for the Pine Hills Station, documents related to the final determination regarding Delaware Station on the Postal Regulatory Commission’s website indicate the Postal Service projects annual savings from that closure of $95,558.

The final determination documents about Delaware Station include responses to concerns expressed by community members. The Postal Service stated that there were 12 alternate postal facilities within a four-mile radius from Delaware Station.  In response to concerns that about 25% of the Delaware Area neighborhood residents do not own a vehicle, the Postal Service stated that “customers can combine trips for service with other errands that are completed during the day.”

The Postal Service also noted that individuals without cars, senior citizens, and the disabled had access to carrier service.  Individuals would also be able to purchase stamps by mail, by phone, online, or at alternate locations. Such alternate locations include grocery stores.

It is unclear what specific factors led to the decision to close Delaware Station or why Academy Station was removed from the list for possible closure.

The final determination documents for Delaware Station state that the total annual costs for that facility are $97,112. Office receipts were: $276,444 in 2007, $285,000 in 2008, and $263,369 in 2009. There are an average of 219 window transactions each day.

“By law, we cannot ‘close’ an office solely based on financial performance,” Marion said. “That means we study all facets of operation – how we use the facility today as well as how we use it in the future.”

According to Marion, the Postal Service reviews each site identified for possible closure on a case-by-case basis.

Public comments as well as information such as alternate locations to purchase stamps, post office box vacancies, and the proximity of other post offices are taken into consideration. Other factors include commercial and residential development and the types of transactions at a facility.

It is unclear when the U.S. Postal Service will make a decision about the Pine Hills Station at 5 S. Allen Street.

“Frankly, we just don’t know yet,” Marion said. -30-


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