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Opponents of Bronx Post Office Closure to Rally and Possibly Sue

By Patrick Wall | September 20, 2013 11:38am
 Critics say the USPS should find ways to keep open the iconic New Deal-era building.
Bronx General Post Office Fight Continues
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CONCOURSE — The campaign to stop the sale of the historic Bronx General Post Office is moving to the streets and the courts, advocates say, after federal regulators rejected an appeal of the proposed sale of the building.

On Saturday, local residents, postal workers and allies from as far away as California will meet at Lincoln Hospital and then march to the hulking New Deal-era post office on East 149th Street and the Grand Concourse to demand the United States Postal Service drop its plans to sell the landmarked building.

“It’s an iconic building that was built with taxpayer dollars and now they’re going to sell it to private interests?” said Chuck Zlatkin, legal and political director for the New York Metro Area Postal Union, which will join in the rally. “It’s really a destruction of the commons.”

Meanwhile, a Bronx activist and a New York University professor filed suit in a federal appeals court this month to reverse the decision by the Postal Regulatory Commission in August to dismiss an appeal of the USPS plan to sell the post office and shift service to a new facility.

The commission had ruled that it only has the authority to review post office closures, not relocations — a distinction that critics say the USPS has used to sidestep regulators.

"It was really a way for the Postal Service to close the post office without doing proper procedures," said Steve Hutkins, the NYU professor. "And we don’t think the PRC should let them get away with that."

At the same time, a group called the National Post Office Collaborate — a bicoastal team opposing post office closures in California and New York — is gearing up to file its own lawsuit against the USPS if the Bronx post office is put on the market.

"It's our intent to get a court ruling that will basically stop these sales," said Jacquelyn McCormick, the group's executive director, who will speak at the rally Saturday.

The USPS announced earlier this year that it planned to sell the 170,000-square-foot building filled with murals from the 1930s, since it only requires a fraction of that space and could relocate to a smaller facility in the same 10451 zip code.

That sparked a barrage of written objections from Bronx residents and elected officials, and eventually the appeals to the regulatory commission.

Critics say the relocation would inconvenience customers and that the agency should have sought more locals’ input before deciding to move its operations and sell the building.

But it is the fate of the building itself — and, in particular, 13 murals of American workers painted inside the marble-lined lobby — that galvanized most critics of the proposed sale.

Julio Pabón, the Bronx activist who joined in the federal court appeal, said he grew up marveling at the building and the artwork inside it.

“Going to the General Post Office was like going to a museum in Manhattan,” he said. “That post office has an incredible meaning to a lot of the people who live in this neighborhood.”

The building’s exterior has long been protected by the city’s landmark laws, but its interior is not. On Oct. 29, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing to consider granting landmark status to the post office lobby and its murals.

The USPS has said that it would retain ownership of the murals even after selling the building, and that it would require any buyer to agree to preserve them and allow public access to the artwork.

But critics question how the agency would enforce such an agreement and what degree of access the public would have.

McCormick, of National Post Office Collaborate, said that the public was limited to six one-hour appointments per year to view the artwork in a Venice, Calif. post office after it was sold.

Since its appeals to the PRC failed, the group is preparing a lawsuit to block the Bronx post office sale if the USPS goes through with it.

If that happens, the group’s lawyers will argue that the agency neglected to find a new facility before putting the old one on the market, violated preservation laws and failed to fully consider alternatives to a sale, such as leasing part of the building to another government agency, McCormick said.

“The Postal Service is willy-nilly selling these buildings without looking at other options,” she said.

The USPS has defended its public engagement process as thorough.

It also has insisted that if a relocation occurs, the new facility will offer the same services and hours of operation, and said no jobs would be lost in the move — a claim that the postal workers union questions.

USPS spokeswoman Connie Chirichello added Thursday that the decision to sell the Bronx General Post Office is still under review.

“The Postal Service explores all avenues and reviews all public comments and appeals before making a determination on the future of a post office building,” she said.

The "Save the Post Office" rally will begin Saturday, Sept. 21 at 11 a.m. in the auditorium at Lincoln Hospital, 234 E. 149th St. At 12:30 p.m., the crowd will march to the Bronx General Post Office.