UNION, NJ — The main branch of the U.S. Post Office on W. Chestnut Street in Union, one of three in the township, is the talk of the town these days as the closure of its large parking lot for construction since early July has left residents feeling frustrated.
The more than 65,000 square-foot lot, which is currently gated off on all sides and will be closed until Aug. 25, has caused myriad issues for residents of the area, visitors to the post office and postal workers, who now have to deal with increased traffic, parking issues and the inconvenience of carrying packages from parking spots farther afield.
Some residents have said they were not informed of the construction prior to the closure.
According to residents, issues began a few years ago after the post office in nearby Maplewood closed and transferred its staff and duties to the W. Chestnut Street branch in Union, causing immediate parking problems in the area.
Union Mayor Suzette Cavadas told LocalSource that the township has tried to communicate directly with the post office on numerous occasions to no avail.
“The upkeep of our town is of utmost importance to us as is evident by all of the beautification and infrastructure investments that we have been making this year,” Cavadas said in a July 24 email. “With that being said, the push for the post office to maintain their property has been ongoing. We are aware that our residents have noticed the state of disrepair and want them to know that we will continue to advocate on their behalf in this arena but to date we have been met with disregard.”
According to the mayor, the township’s complaints have been ignored.
“We have spoken to more than one postmaster about these issues going on for years, written letters and lodged several complaints,” Cavadas said. “We have even gone as far as issuing them (a) summons from code enforcement only to be told by the post office’s attorney that their status as a federal agency does not require them to adhere to municipal ordinances. No one more than us would like to see the post office become vested in our community and take pride in their location and the people that they serve, but they have made it clear that being good neighbors doesn’t rank that high on their list of priorities.”
Because residents suddenly found themselves with no place to park, the township instituted residential permit parking.
But parking wasn’t the only problem, as the township also began getting complaints about the physical condition of the post office, such as litter and trash strewn about the property and overgrown grass.
Union resident Kara West lives directly across from the post office and said things are worse than ever.
“The post office is often an eyesore because of its unkempt grounds, but it’s even worse now,” West told LocalSource in a July 19 email. “Our street is permit parking only, but people still will park at the end of it to go into the post office during the day.”
According to West, there have been issues with people double-parking in order to get close to the post office.
“We do have a lot of issues with people double-parking on the side of Chestnut closest to the post office, and also people parking on the side closest to our street way past the sign for ‘no parking to the curb,’” West said. “It makes it really dangerous to pull out of many of the side streets due to many people speeding on Chestnut, and I’ve been involved in and witnessed many near accidents in that area because there’s a lot of traffic with Costco being the next turn.
There’s also a crosswalk at the right side of the end of my street that isn’t marked well, and people often don’t see or don’t stop for it.”
West said she saw postal workers walking long distances due to lack of parking, even before construction began.
“I often see mail carriers walking for blocks for parking even when they weren’t doing the construction, but it has certainly gotten worse since they started because residents are using the spaces the workers formerly filled,” she said.
Union postmaster Gino Perri did not respond to calls from LocalSource.
In response to LocalSource’s social media query as to how the current situation has impacted the area, many residents shared the similar sentiments, calling the unusable parking lot a “big inconvenience” and calling the lack of area parking “very frustrating.”
Another resident said that, although she is glad the lot is being repaved, she was unable to find any parking when visiting the post office last week.
“I had to park in Costco’s lot and walk, which was a little tricky because people speed on W. Chestnut and were not courteous to let me cross,” the resident said on Facebook.
Union Township Committee candidate Jason Krychiw said he has been canvassing neighborhoods in preparation for the November election, and residents have expressed concerns regarding the post office.
“When I was going door-to-door in town the other day, someone said their father worked at that location,” Krychiw told LocalSource in a July 19 email. “He said, since a lot of the side streets near the post office are permit parking only for the residents who live there, the employees there have a hard time finding any parking.”
Krychiw said he first noticed the lot closed off for repairs July 12, while in the neighborhood.
“Repairs started on or about that time,” Krychiw said. “There was a sign up saying it was closed until Aug. 25 for repairs, so it will essentially be closed for the entire summer.”
According to Krychiw, issues at the branch are nothing new.
“There have always been certain upkeep issues with that office,” he said. “It became a bigger deal back in April of this year because, as the weather got warmer, the grass and plants on the property started to become overgrown. It happens almost every year, but this year people posted pictures on the forum and someone posted contact info for the postmaster and other administrators to contact about it. I think those calls complaining about it are what finally got the landscaping in order.”
As for the parking lot, said Krychiw, it has always been pretty rough.
“It’s a lot of big potholes and cracked services and the usual remedy was just throwing stones into them,” he said. “I think that is getting fixed for the same aforementioned reason. I’m not really sure how they are going about repairs for it to take two and a half months to finish, but I know it has put a lot of strain on the parking over there. Almost all of the side streets off W.
Chestnut near that location are permit parking for residents who live there, so whether it is the post office employees or customers, parking is difficult to come by. I met a guy the other day who said his father worked there and had to go in an hour early just to find street parking.”
George Flood, a local spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service, told LocalSource that residents can look forward to a new and improved parking lot.
“We are looking forward to providing a brand new parking lot and ask for everyone’s patience during construction at the Union NJ Main Post Office, 1130 West Chestnut Street,” Flood said in a July 21 email. “Postal representatives and Union Township officials met on June 15 to review the project.”
In response to claims that residents did not know about the closing, Flood said the public had been informed.
“Public notifications were posted throughout the main post office lobby in the first week of July,” he said. “The signs indicate the customer lot will be undergoing restoration from July 12 through August 25. The 65, 385 sq. ft. repaving of the customer parking lot on the side of the post office and postal vehicle lot behind the building will be completed in phases to minimize the impact on traffic into and out of the main post office. As construction proceeds, public and employee safety remains our top priority. The main post office is open for business and mail delivery remains unaffected by the construction.”
Krychiw said shared services are fine as long as residents benefit.
“I have been there a couple times and the customer service line is always long, especially since they combined with the Maplewood office,” he said. “I’ve heard the same from a lot of people who frequent it. I’m all for shared services, as long as both parties are benefiting, but it seems like the additional workload it’s only a detriment to Union and the residents who live over in that location. Parking was becoming an issue there before the lot renovations after the branches combined, so I can only imagine how much worse it has gotten for people who work at or use that office a lot.”
According to Flood, residents with concerns or comments can contact the Union postmaster at 908-378-6129, the Postal Service’s Northern New Jersey District Consumer & Industry Contact Office at 732-819-3260, or send an email via USPS.com.
“Every call and email will be documented and appropriate action taken to strengthen service,” Flood said. “When the entire repaving project at the Union Main Post Office is completed, we are confident that everyone will be pleased with the results.”