It’s déjà vu all over again as the United States Postal Service once again scouts Bethesda for a new post office.
This latest move comes after several years of opening and closing post offices around Bethesda and after being criticized for failure to provide customers with adequate parking especially for the elderly and disabled at its newest location.
At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, the USPS will hold a public meeting and ask for community input. The USPS wants to supplement its facility at 6900 Wisconsin Ave., according to the USPS, with a spot that would be 2,000 square feet, located in the 20816 zip code and have 27 parking spaces and one handicapped space. The new location would not have post office boxes.
In June of 2012, the USPS unveiled a new downtown Bethesda post office on Wisconsin Avenue after closing two other downtown Bethesda post offices — one at 7001 Arlington Road and the other at 7400 Wisconsin Ave. The property on Arlington Road is being turned into a mixed use development with apartments and retail and Donohoe Companies, of Washington, D.C., bought the 7400 Wisconsin Ave. property for about $4 million in 2011.
Those decisions were part of a nationwide campaign to close or consolidate post offices to save money, according to Laura Dvorak, spokeswoman for the USPS. But while the new location on Wisconsin Avenue was good, across from Trader Joe’s and walking distance to the metro, there was a major problem — no parking.
USPS shares the adjacent parking lot with Mattress Discounters and Verizon Wireless, but customers were not able to use the lot, only nearby metered spaces. In a June 12 letter, Darrell Donnelly, government relations representative for the USPS, wrote that the owner of the lot would not rent parking spaces to the USPS without the consent of Mattress Discounters and Verizon, which he did not have.
This angered both customers and legislators.
In a May 2012 letter from U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) to Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe, Van Hollen wrote that “it defies credulity that the USPS opened a facility in a developed commercial area without first ensuring that parking would be available for its customers, even for those who are disabled or elderly.”
In the letter, Van Hollen criticized USPS assurances that it would remedy the problem and called for a new site that comes with parking.
“In my view, the only way to resolve this crisis is for USPS to relocate to a facility that addresses the priorities of parking and accessibility that were promised at the USPS-hosted community meeting on July 27, 2011,” Van Hollen wrote.
The USPS tried to address the problem by making parking available in a nearby underground garage at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Bradley Boulevard, beneath Staples, PetSmart and CVS. Customers must get tickets validated at the counter.
But in an email to The Gazette Monday, Dvorak acknowledged continuing parking problems.
“The intent at the start of this consolidation was to merge the two buildings into one office. We thought we had accomplished that,” Dvorak, wrote in the email. “However, parking issues forced us to research bringing another facility on to more adequately serve our customers.”