Mailboxes kicked to curb in Hough neighborhood

Postal Service edict to move them to the street upsets residents of historic area

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

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Many homes in the Hough neighborhood have remained largely unchanged since they were first built in the early to mid-1900s. Bungalows, foursquare and Victorian homes line the streets in the west Vancouver neighborhood, but residents say one thing is starting to stick out like a sore thumb: curbside mailboxes.

Mailbox placement has been the subject of a recurring scuffle between Hough residents and the U.S. Postal Service for several years. Sometimes, it’s a hot-button issue. Other times, it’s on the back burner. Right now, it has reached a simmer.

“Hough is on the state historic registry, and its historic preservation of the facade of our homes is important to us,” said Eileen Cowen, co-chair of the neighborhood association.

That’s why folks get upset when the post office sends letters to new residents asking them to move their mailboxes to the street. Cowen said having mailboxes slapped on poles near the curb or hanging on front yard fences isn’t true to the area’s history.

Eric Giacchino has lived in the neighborhood since 1996. He’s seen the issue come and go. Now he’s taking information from neighbors who receive those letters.

“The gist of the letter is: If you don’t move your mailbox to the street, they’ll withhold your mail,” he said.

The rule isn’t anything new and the post office isn’t targeting any specific neighborhoods, said Kerry Jeffrey, USPS spokesman.

The post office will honor mailbox locations as long as the homeowner stays the same. But “when the existing customer moves out and a new customer moves in, it is postal policy to move it (the mailbox) to a better spot,” Jeffrey said.

The organization will make accommodations for people who are unable to get out to curbside mailboxes, but the neighborhood’s historic status doesn’t have a bearing on the rule, Jeffrey said.

“It is quicker. Obviously, it is more efficient,” to have mailboxes on the curb, Jeffrey said. That’s why new developments have community boxes, he said.

The post office told neighbors it will save $55 a year for each mailbox that is moved from a home to the street.

Neighbor Erin Lark doesn’t think shaving a few seconds off a walking route is going to save a lot of money. She thinks having a new plastic mailbox in front of her 111-year-old home would look ridiculous.

“The point of the postal service is, you’re supposed to get mail at your residence,” she said. “I don’t see how the three seconds from the door to my mailbox is going to make a difference,” especially when the mail carrier walks the route, anyway.

Lark also thinks having a curbside box on a heavily traveled street would substantially increase the threat of mail theft. (Right now, her mail comes through a slot into her mudroom).

Dennis Fernald, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said people can steal mail out of any mailbox, but rural-style boxes in front of homes don’t tend to be hit as often as community boxes.

“(Mail thieves) like doing the one-stop shopping,” Fernald said. They like “being able to get into multiple boxes at one location.”

He did acknowledge it can be harder to know if you are a victim if your box doesn’t lock.

Postal service spokesman Jeffrey said the policy of asking folks to move mailboxes to the street is also for mail carriers’ safety. The service is concerned about its employees going up to homes with broken steps, unraked leaves, menacing dogs, and ice patches or other weather-related problems.

That isn’t lost on the neighborhood, Cowen said. If there is a safety concern, she thinks moving a mailbox is a reasonable request.

“We appreciate the post office staff. We get it,” she said. “This (sending letters to new residents) is probably not the best way to do it.”

Giacchino understands the post office is trying to be more efficient, but says moving the mailboxes will detract from the appearance of the neighborhood and could have a negative impact on home values. Giacchino is planning to hand deliver a letter and about 19 pages of photos and historic documents to the post office later this week. He hopes the neighborhood and post office can discuss the issue.

Ideally he'd like to see all the mailboxes moved back to homes, but acknowledges a compromise will be tricky since the neighborhood and post office want opposite things.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522 or paul.suarez@columbian.com.