Our View: Post office move holds promise | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Post office move holds promise

— News that the downtown branch of the U.S. Postal Service plans to move east by 2011 no doubt will cause consternation for many residents who enjoy the convenience of the Third Street location. But overall, the move has the potential to ease downtown traffic and replace an inefficient building with one more suited for the prime location.

Developer Brian Olson confirmed two weeks ago that he has a contract with the Postal Service to purchase the existing post office site at Third Street and Lincoln Avenue and build a new standalone post office facility at his development across from Staples at the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Pine Grove Road. Olson said the new, one-story post office building must be completed by Aug. 30, 2011.

A Postal Service spokesman confirmed the deal and said the satellite location in the Sundance at Fish Creek shopping center would be consolidated into the main branch downtown in fall 2009.

City of Steamboat Springs and Postal Service officials have sought a new location for the downtown post office for several years, particularly because of traffic congestion at Third Street and Lincoln Avenue. Officials also say the building is inefficient and doesn’t adequately meet the needs of the Postal Service, particularly as it relates to loading docks for mail trucks.

“They’ve really outgrown the usefulness of that building,” city Planning and Community Development Director Tom Leeson acknowledged last week.

There are many details to be worked out – most important is a traffic study for the new site east of downtown – but we think the move holds promise.

Traffic at Third and Lincoln continues to worsen, and having a high-demand facility at that intersection only adds to the congestion. Although Olson hasn’t announced any plans for the site, it’s not difficult to imagine better uses for a key parcel at the entrance to downtown Steamboat than an aging post office facility.

A better-designed, standalone building could better meet the needs of the Postal Service – loading docks for the trucks that come down Rabbit Ears Pass each day, for example – and residents.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some concerns with the proposed location and certain timing elements of the move.

A significant number of residents who have post office boxes at the downtown location live in Old Town or in the numerous subdivisions off Fish Creek Falls Road and Steamboat Boulevard. A new post office location east of downtown could create a significant amount of additional traffic heading from downtown toward the mountain area. Any sort of development at that intersection also will necessitate some significant traffic improvements, something Leeson said could make or break the development.

Also, the decision to close the satellite branch in Sundance begs two questions: 1) Are there enough post office boxes at the downtown branch to satisfy the demand posed by the consolidation, and 2) Why close the satellite almost two full years before the new building will be finished? Does it make sense to force all those people to a downtown location most already agree is not set up to handle the existing demand, let alone increased demand?

We’d also be remiss to not mention that for many residents, the downtown post office is a valuable community hub – a place where neighbors, friends, co-workers and old acquaintances bump into one another and reconnect, if only for a minute or two, while checking their mailboxes.

We understand that charm, but we think the same could be true of a single post office facility located somewhere besides a busy intersection in the downtown district.

Finally, we’re hopeful an additional post office branch will never be needed west of downtown Steamboat, where most future residential development is planned. That’s largely because all new residential developments in city limits are required to include clusterboxes, eliminating the need for most residents to go to an actual post office facility for anything other than shipping needs.

Ultimately, it’s hard not to assume all residents will become less reliant on physical mail in the future – all the more reason to rid downtown of a post office the city has outgrown.

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