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June 30, 2014 - Stamford Case Could Set Precedent As Postal Service Downsizes

June 30, 2014

Connecticut Law Tribune

In the early 1900s, federal buildings tended to be monumental—beautifully designed and built with high-quality construction materials so they would last. One hundred years later, the result is an inventory of historic post offices that are often larger than the U.S. Postal Service requires due to the declining volume of mail and increased automation.

Federal court litigation over the Stamford Main Post Office, built in 1916, is just the latest example of how the USPS's modernization efforts are putting the quasi-public agency in conflict with laws meant to preserve history and protect the environment.

The postal service closed the building last September and is transferring it functions to other postal facilities in the city. The USPS wants to sell the building to the Cappelli Organization for $4.3 million. The White Plains, N.Y., developer wants to demolish part of the post office and erect two 20-story luxury apartment towers behind the building.

A group of plaintiffs went to court on the day the developer and the postal service were ready to close the deal, arguing that the "postal service seeks to pass title to a developer without obtaining from it sufficient protections for the historically and culturally important features of the property."

The plaintiffs are the National Post Office Collaborate, a nonprofit formed two years ago to fight to preserve the historic post office in Berkeley, Calif., and now fighting to preserve historic post offices nationally; the Stamford-based Center for Art and Mindfulness, which tried unsuccessfully to buy the building as an arts center; and Stamford resident Kaysay Abrha.

Jacquelyn McCormick, executive director of the collaborate, said since her group and the other plaintiffs filed their lawsuit last fall, the postal service has not closed any post offices elsewhere in the country. The legal dispute over the Stamford building could be a test case for how the postal service handles the disposition of its historically significant properties, she said.

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