City pursuing takeover of postal lot

By Tom Joyce

July 10, 2014

A large parking lot beside the Mount Airy Post Office has been barricaded for months, but city officials could be closing in on a deal that would allow it to reopen through a rental agreement.

In January, concrete posts and yellow tape went up along South Main Street at the entrance of the lot, which in the past has been used heavily by both postal patrons and the general public — especially during festivals and the peak tourist season.

The closure occurred due to safety concerns posed by the deteriorating condition of the lot — cited as potholes and “irregularities” — and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) that owns it not considering repairs to be a priority, an agency representative has said. The USPS has taken the position that adequate parking exists to serve postal customers, without the lot, and the post office has no obligation to provide spaces for the public at large.

But Mount Airy officials dispute the notion that it is not needed by postal customers, who sometimes encounter problems finding parking spaces, and say the site otherwise fills a void.

This has led to attempts in recent months by the municipality to gain control of the lot through the sending of letters and other means, according to City Manager Barbara Jones.

The first involved a request that the U.S. Postal Service donate the parcel, of about 1.6 acres, to the city government, which upon being deeded would be repaved at the municipality’s expense and include the parking lot surrounding the post office.

“We further agreed that the city would pay for the survey of this transaction,” Jones added.

However, the donation idea did not seem to catch on with postal officials.

While not flatly rejecting the donation/paving proposal, they have indicated that any offer considered would be on a lease or rental basis, said Deputy City Clerk Carolyn Hegler, who has been assisting Jones on the project. Since the USPS threw out that idea to local officials, efforts have been under way to pinpoint the details of what it would involve, she said.

Deal Near?

In the most recent contacts, the U.S. Postal Service indicated that it would research the value of the property as part of this process.

“We received a response from the USPS last week that said their realty asset programs manager, Gabriel Benvenuto, is working on this project to determine a rental rate the USPS would charge for the parking lot,” Jones reported Wednesday. “They anticipate this being completed by the end of July or early August.”

It then would be up to city leaders to approve a lease agreement based on the figure quoted.

Hegler said Thursday that the process could take a while to complete. But she said the public should be aware that the city government has not neglected the issue and is actively seeking a solution.

Meanwhile, the closure of the parking lot forced this year’s Mount Airy Farmers Market that had been operating there to find a new location, at the corner of West Pine and South South streets.

And it no longer can be used by owners of recreational vehicles (RVs) or other larger modes of transportation who visit Mount Airy and have relied on the lot in the past.

Also at times, post office customers scramble to find parking spaces, which Hegler said is at least partly due to a lack of awareness that parking is available from the rear and side accesses at the post office in addition to on-street spots.

Efforts to reopen the parking lot have included enlisting the help of congressional officials including Sen. Richard Burr and Rep. Howard Coble, along with state Rep. Sarah Stevens, according to the city manager.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.