CARY — Vijay and Vineela Madiraju had unloaded boxes in their new home, met their neighbors and transferred bills before they realized something was wrong: Not a single letter had arrived in the new, black Imperial mailbox in front of their home.
“It took almost two weeks,” Vijay Madiraju said, before they knew the mail would never come.
By then word had spread: The Holland Farm project is one of the first new subdivisions in the state that will not get mail to its curbside boxes. And it certainly won’t be the last.
The U.S. Postal Service has said it will only drop mail for the community’s 59 houses in a cluster of mailboxes, like an apartment complex or townhouse community might use. Postal districts across the country now are allowed to implement that money-saving effort, said a Postal Service spokeswoman.
An announcement last fall from a regional postal administrator marked the end of home delivery for at least some of the thousands of people moving into new homes here.
But not everyone got the message, and the rollout here has not been smooth, said Ed Kristensen, regional president for developer M/I Homes.
“We were notified by residents, frankly, that the mail was not being delivered,” said Kristensen, whose company built Holland Farm. “We said, ‘Hey, there’s something wrong with this picture.'”
The problem for M/I Homes is that Holland Farm doesn’t have a cluster of mailboxes for its 59 houses. The developer planned and plotted the new community in western Cary more than a year ago, long before receiving the letter from the Greensboro postal district, Kristensen said.
The company’s planners had assumed they’d do it the American way: a freestanding mailbox for every family.
“We view this as a fundamental right of the citizen, to be able to get the mail delivered to our homes,” said Michael Culnan, a new resident of Holland Farm.
Yet come this spring, he and his neighbors were futilely waiting for mortgage statements and bills to arrive at their new addresses.
“We don’t know what to do. Should we go talk to people? Should we sit on the road?” Mani Govind asked as his kids peered into the empty box out front of their new house.
Hearing neighbors’ complaints, Kristensen and his team looked to other developers, then to Cary town government.
Eventually, town staffers dug up the half-forgotten October letter from the Postal Service. It said, in a few long-winded paragraphs, that the Postal Service would review developers’ site plans, and that it would decide how to deliver the mail.
Unfortunately, some people didn’t get the message.
The letter didn’t mention the new cluster mailboxes or mail kiosks that are now required in some neighborhoods. M/I Homes, one of the largest developers in the area, had no idea that it was expected to go to the post office for a review of plans; that has rarely been a part of the standard development process.
Even staffers for Cary, one of the area’s biggest growth towns, didn’t realize until early this year that the new policy would likely affect new construction.
“In the fall, our first impression … was ‘This sounds like townhomes and apartments and places that normally have these types of thing,’ ” said town planner Rob Wilson.
And fast-growing Holly Springs only learned of the new policy this month, though Apex has been telling builders to set up cluster units since October, according to those towns’ planning directors.
“The change could have been communicated better,” wrote Monica Coachman, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service, in an email. “However, the developers have a responsibility to coordinate with the Postal Service regarding the mode of delivery before development moves forward. The breakdown in communication is shared. …”
The Postal Service also blamed the miscommunication on the economic slowdown, saying construction wasn’t consistent when the policy was introduced in 2012, Coachman said.
In the Cary case, the Postal Service isn’t budging. The 35 families living in Holland Farm have been driving up to 20 minutes, usually once a week, to pick up mail from a post office.
The Postal Service’s goal in all this is to save billions of dollars and dig itself out of huge yearly losses. Consolidating neighborhood mailboxes can save the government roughly 35 percent, or about $130 per house per year, according to a 2011 report by the Office of the Inspector General.
“Back in the day, we had a lot of streets that were connected and easy to get to,” Cary Postmaster John Thompson told the Cary Town Council last week.
“Now you’ve got cul-de-sacs, you’ve got alleys, you’ve got trash-can day.”
To meet the new mandate, M/I Homes has improvised a plan to put a mail kiosk on an unused bit of land near one of the neighborhood’s stub roads. It’s not ideal, but it’s the quickest way to meet the new normal.
The town of Cary, meanwhile, has just approved standards for the cluster boxes, which come with their own set of parking, accessibility and aesthetic challenges.
In all, Cary counts nine under-construction subdivisions that will need to be reconfigured for the new delivery method, though only five have any residents, according to town staff.
Some of the developers are still arguing for exemptions to the new policy, including Ed Kristensen and M/I Homes. Even so, Kristensen is preparing to install the cluster mailbox and accept a new truth: The letter carriers won’t be coming down the cul-de-sac anytime soon.