By Kevin Coughlin
The Post Office on Morris Street is too big and too creaky for the Postal Service, which would prefer smaller digs within walking distance in downtown Morristown.
So how about… the Post Office on Morris Street?
Mayor Tim Dougherty suggested that if the town purchased the 21,000-square-foot facility, it could lease a portion back to the Postal Service.
“The Post Office will consider remaining in the building with a reduced presence if a buyer comes forward who can make that happen,” responded Postal Service Real Estate Specialist David Rouse, addressing a public meeting at town hall on Wednesday.
The public now has 30 days to send comments to Rouse. Then the Postal Service will decide whether to stay put, or start searching for a smaller facility while it puts the building at 1 Morris St. up for sale.
Send letters (no email!) within 30 days to:
David Rouse, Real Estate Specialist
U.S. Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, RM 6670
Washington DC 20260-1862
Although the building turns 100 next year, it is not on the federal historic register, Rouse said. However, he assured the 25 or so people at the meeting that conditions attached to any future sale would prevent the buyer from substantially altering the character of the structure.
“Nobody’s going to tear down the building,” said Rouse. The New Jersey Historic Trust helped identify key features to preserve when Princeton’s post office was sold, he said.
The Morristown Post Office is on the national and state historic registers, according to a marker placed there by the Morris County Historical Society in 1984.
Government actions affecting historic sites are subject to approval by the Historic Preservation Office of the state Department of Environmental Protection, under the National Historic Preservation Act and the New Jersey Register of Historic Places Act.
‘IT SHOULD BE PRESERVED’
A resident asked the Mayor if rumors are true that he wants to move relocate town hall to the Post Office.
Dougherty said it’s too early to propose any municipal uses for the Post Office, but he reiterated that it should be a “centerpiece” of the downtown.
“It’s a great building that should be preserved,” he said, estimating that restoration might cost $2 million.
In 2012, he led a campaign for senior citizens who opposed a proposed closure of the Post Office. A public outcry stopped closures nationwide.
But e-mail continues to take a huge bite out of snail mail, and postal revenue keeps declining, Rouse told Wednesday’s gathering.
Most of the Morris Street building is empty and it’s costly to heat and maintain, he said.
“No letter carriers work there anymore,” said Morristown Postmaster Janice Peters, who staffs the place with two postal clerks.
Packages still are accepted at Morris Street, but half of its P.O. boxes are unrented and local mail processing occurs at a facility on Ridgedale Avenue in Morris Township, Rouse said.
‘NOT TRYING TO PULL A FAST ONE’
Challenges facing any prospective buyer include renovating a second floor that’s been vacant for at least a decade. “It’s in very terrible shape,” Peters said.
Any commercial use also would require a zoning change; the tax-exempt half-acre property is zoned for “public purposes,” the Mayor said.
The Postal Service informed the Mayor’s office of the possible sale in a letter dated Aug. 23. The public was notified on Oct. 11, by a letter taped to the Post Office door.
A sale would involve a public bidding process, Rouse said. But the highest bid could be trumped by other considerations–such as a lease arrangement for postal operations, acknowledged spokesman George Flood.
Councilman Bob Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes the Post Office, called it a “beautiful building” and said he fancies a public use. Like what? “Let’s wait and see,” he said.
The Postal Service only needs 1,500- to 2,000 square feet, and officials hope to find something within three-quarters of a mile of its present location near the historic Morristown Green.
Town resident Margret Brady suggested the Morristown Train station; someone else mentioned a former shipping office at Headquarters Plaza.
Service will be maintained through any transition, said Postal Service official Ellen Schwarz, citing a similar situation in Maplewood.
The goal in Morristown is to find an affordable space within easy walking distance for customers, Rouse said.
“We are not trying to pull a fast one to try to get out of town quickly,” he said.