You've Got Mail . . . a Block Away

In lieu of house-to-house delivery, the U.S. Postal Service prefers cluster boxes such as this one in the Avalon West development in Waldorf.
In lieu of house-to-house delivery, the U.S. Postal Service prefers cluster boxes such as this one in the Avalon West development in Waldorf. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)

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By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 17, 2007

The personal mailbox is the latest casualty of suburban sprawl.

Across the nation, the U.S. Postal Service increasingly is delivering mail to communal cluster boxes as a way to keep pace with booming residential growth while controlling labor costs. The new strategy, aimed at new developments in fast-growing areas such as Clarksburg, Leesburg and Waldorf, saves the postal service time and money.

"Instead of going from door to door, from lawn to lawn, from driveway to driveway, we have a central location," said Luvenia Hyson, a postal service regional spokeswoman.

But many residents and developers say cluster boxes -- traditionally reserved for apartments and townhouses, not single-family homes -- are impersonal, inconvenient and downright ugly.

Mia Hall just moved into her dream house, a five-bedroom Colonial in Southern Maryland featuring a gourmet kitchen with a center island and a double oven, twin fireplaces and a finished basement, as well as a whirlpool tub and dual shower heads in the master bathroom.

At the edge of her nicely manicured front lawn, however, something's missing: a mailbox. Hall, 37, a government employee who lives with her husband and two children, walks each day from her cul-de-sac to the end of winding Downshire Court to retrieve her mail from a locked steel box.

Hers is slot No. 13 -- "lucky 13," she said, dejected.

"When I walk down there, I think, 'Jeez, this is a long walk.' It would complete our home if we had a nice mailbox out front that has our number, our name on it."

Nearby, in the first phase of the Waldorf subdivision Avalon, mail is delivered to personal mailboxes -- because construction began before the postal service stepped up its communal delivery efforts. But in Avalon West, where Hall moved into one of the first finished models this spring, mail lands in beige communal cluster boxes.

The communal delivery system's detractors include the National Association of Home Builders, which is lobbying against it. A.J. Holliday, a lawyer for the Washington-based interest group, called the new postal strategy "discrimination" against people buying new homes.

"The post office has set up a separate class, and they've created new residential construction as a separate class," he said.

Holliday said he understands why it saves money to deliver to cluster boxes. "They can send a truck up to this box, unload in the box, and drive away," he said.

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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