Lehigh Valley residents moving into new housing developments soon could find themselves trekking much farther than the curb to retrieve mail.
Jason Zerfass, of Palmer Township, is one of them.
After receiving mail for a week upon moving into the Maple Shade Estates development in July, his mail delivery suddenly stopped. The U.S. Postal Service, under a cost savings plan, told residents it would no longer be delivering to individual homes and wants developer Tuskes Homes to construct cluster mailboxes.
“It is the optimum way for the postal service to balance an expanding delivery network with the reduction of mail volume delivered to each box as some mail types migrate to the Internet,” U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Karen Mazurkiewicz said.
With cluster boxes, mailboxes for individual addresses are grouped together at a central neighborhood location.
But, the development, bordering Palmer and Bethlehem Townships, has 12 homes built already and expects a total of 78 structures completed by 2016. Residents in opposition — as well as builder Mike Tuskes — say there’s no room to build cluster mailboxes unless a property owner wants to give up a chunk of his or her own land.
“Not only is this frustrating for us as homeowners, but it is time-consuming and frustrating for the workers at the post office,” Zerfass said. “How is this saving the post office time when they have to perform this process for everyone in the neighborhood?”
Zerfass said he now visits the Palmer Township post office two to three times a week and rushes to get there before closing at 5:30 p.m. Wait times can last up to 25 minutes for postal workers to retrieve the mail, he said.
“Each time I ask for my mail I can feel the dissent from the postal workers because it takes time out of their day to sort through and find my mail,” he said.
“I’ve seen cluster mailboxes for townhomes, but this will never work for single-family homes,” said Palmer Township resident Rick Solofsky.
John DeRemer, of Bethlehem Township, and Matt Sennecca, of Palmer Township, both said they wanted more communication by the postal service about the issue.
“They really don’t explain anything. It just stopped,” Sennecca said.
The financially-struggling postal service sees savings in centralized mail delivery.
Door-to-door delivery costs about $353 per address annually while curbside delivery costs $224; cluster boxes cost $160 per address, Mazurkiewicz said.
Mazurkiewicz said a former process had allowed developers the opportunity to choose between curbside or cluster box delivery, but that ended in April 2013. Now, the postal service makes the decision depending on which type would be the most efficient and appropriate for the areas being served.
She did not have specific figures of how many new developments statewide or nationally are changing to cluster box delivery.
The postal service met with Tuskes in June to discuss the cluster mailbox concept. Mike Tuskes said he left the meeting thinking it was agreed curbside service would be the best option for Maple Shade. Supervisors in both municipalities never required him to gain curbside approval from the postal service, he said.
“As a developer, we would simply assume that a single-family home project would be serviced with curbside delivery like every other community we have built in the Lehigh Valley over the last 40 years,” Tuskes said.
The postal service is willing to work with Tuskes on the model of the cluster boxes, security options and size, Mazurkiewicz said.
Residents are trying to gain the backing of state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton/Lehigh/Monroe, and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-17th District. Both say they are willing to help.
“We are aware of the situation at Maple Shade Estates and the congressman (Cartwright) is against cluster box delivery service because of its disadvantages to the elderly and the disabled,” said Shane Seaver, a Cartwright spokesman.
Residents also fear delays in getting their packages with the holidays looming.
Zerfass claims he has received mail postmarked from a couple of weeks earlier. A box of party supplies for his son’s graduation went missing until after the party, he said.
“These are the type of issues we are dealing with,” he said.