The U.S. Postal Service is spending more than $186,000 to rent an empty building it previously owned at 7400 Wisconsin Ave., in Bethesda.
That figure includes $23,299 per month for the historic post office they vacated in May for a new location at 6900 Wisconsin Ave., wrote USPS spokeswoman Laura Dvorak in an email.
The move was part of an effort to shrink the USPS network of facilities — and cut expenses — but the lease at 7400 Wisconsin Ave. does not end until February 2013.
U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) criticized USPS for prematurely closing the downtown post office, and said the circumstances raise questions about its management abilities.
“In these particular circumstances, clearly what we see is gross mismanagement that is costing the taxpayer,” he said. “I certainly hope there are not more disturbing details, because what we know is disturbing enough.”
Washington, D.C.-based Donohoe Companies purchased 7400 Wisconsin Ave. for about $4 million last year, which the postal service is renting back from the company. The rent initially was $6,500 per month, before nearly quadrupling, Dvorak wrote. It is unclear why the lease amount increased. Questions about the lease structure were directed by the USPS to Donohoe. Donohoe could not be reached for comment.
Taxpayers are on the hook for the vacant building because USPS staff thought lease termination required 90 days notice, rather than the negotiated nine-month notice.
“We did have 90 days termination if the building had become uninhabitable and that is probably where the confusion came in,” Dvorak wrote.
USPS told Van Hollen the move was motivated by the expiration of the lease at 7400 Wisconsin Ave., which he called “patently untrue,” in a July 27 letter to Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. The USPS could stay in the facility for five more years at below-market rate, according to the letter.
In May, the postal service closed an additional facility at 7001 Arlington Road. That site included ample parking, a feature the new site at 6900 Wisconsin Ave. lacks.
Postal Service customers must use metered spots, and have had their cars towed from a parking lot shared by Mattress Discounters and Verizon Wireless, according to a previous letter from Van Hollen to the postmaster general.
Van Hollen again called on USPS to relocate to a new facility that includes parking. USPS thought it would be able to lease parking spaces because USPS officials had observed signage indicating the previous tenant used the adjacent lot, according to the letter from Van Hollen.
“The customers should not have to pay the price for the post office’s incompetence in this,” he said. “It’s unacceptable for the post office to reverse itself on commitments it made to the community for adequate parking.”
The postal service is seeking a second location in Bethesda, but backed off promises to include 27 parking spaces and one handicapped space.
“In Bethesda, parking is difficult but it is our hope that we can find something suitable that has adequate parking,” Dvorak wrote. “Site planning typically involves making sure that there is adequate parking for the needs of our facilities, so the situation we experienced recently rarely occurs. In the future we will work to fully vet proposed parking allowances with all parties prior to taking possession of a property.”