Residents say mailbox location is 'unsafe'
JDJ subdivision says no to CBU, wants home delivery
Sites inconvenience, security issues with
current mail delivery
By Richard Zowie
Times Guardian Staff Writer
As you're driving on FM 2722 about a mile and a half from where the farm-to-market road forks off and merges with FM 2673, you're bound to see an eastbound side-winding road that's been the recent subject of debate. The road, JDJ Drive, curves toward the top of a hill toward a subdivision on the other side.
At the bottom of the hill on the FM 2722 side is the center of its controversy. On the right-hand side of the entrance is a row of about 15 mailboxes. Residences of the subdivision say it's not a safe way to get mail. For one thing, many of the residents drive trucks and large vans-making u-turns on the small road unsafe to do.
"If you're trying to turn right into the subdivision, it's a blind access mark," explained resident Tom Smith, who voiced his concerns to the Comal County Commissioners' Court July 29. "If you're coming down the switchback curves, it's a blind access mark as you're coming into the area where the boxes are now."
What Smith and others in the subdivision would like to see is for the postal service to change its method of delivery from cluster boxes to mailboxes in front of each resident's home. Currently, though, the post office is looking into changing the current mailboxes to a cluster box unit. A CBU consists of an array of metal boxes, each assigned to a different resident and requiring a key for entry.
But residents of the subdivision say a CBU is insufficient. Besides the numerous traffic safety issues that occur when many vehicles drive up to get mail at the same time, Smith said the current location is also unsafe due to no lights in the area to keep it illuminated at night. Many of the residents will check their mail in the morning when they're going to work, or in the evening when they're returning home from work, he said.
Jim Coultress, USPS communications program specialist, said that the postal service isn't responsible for providing the lights. He added that they hired a private traffic engineer, who concluded in a report that CBU delivery would be perfectly safe for that particular location.
"Even if they moved the collection area into one of the cul-de-sacs, there would be enough area to make a u-turn. However, those areas are still in remote areas of the neighborhood, you'd still have the hazard of people walking between parked cars," Smith explained.
Smith said the subdivision's concern is also to protect its senior citizen residents since the subdivision has been victimized several times by vandals and other criminal activities. Smith's own home has been broken into twice in one year; he now has an alarm system, a fence and a guard dog. He also has a halogen light that comes on from dusk to dawn.
"That's where I'd like to put my mailbox-right in front of my driveway entry where that light is, so that at night if somebody stops I can tell," he said. "By putting the boxes in front of our houses, the county could do a pull off area or turnout area where they could go in at each drive way if needed, but actually I don't think they'd really have to do that since we have really good road shoulders right now."
He continued: "That way, the mail carriers' vehicle when they make a delivery would be totally off the road so they'd maintain two flow lanes of traffic. The residents, when they check their mail wouldn't have to be on the road they'd be walking from their driveway to their mailbox. Their cars could be in their driveway or in their garage. That's really the safest alternative."
JDJ subdivision's mail delivery concern has been ongoing since October 2003, and the residents have exchanged several letters with the United States Postal Service regarding this matter. They've contacted New Braunfels Postmaster Carl Karnish, USPS District Manager Lawrence James, USPS Southwest Vice President George Lopez and to Postmaster General John E. Potter.
According to a May 28, 2020 traffic engineering report compiled by state-registered professional engineer Joe F. Nix, the recommended option for the postal service is to replace the mailboxes at the bottom of the hill with a CBU. There were three other alternatives explored: keeping the individual mailboxes at the bottom of JDJ Drive near FM 2722, providing a "secure collection box facility" where JDJ Drive and Lariat Ridge intersect or (the one JDJ residents want) providing mail service to each individual residence.
"Due to the steepness of JDJ Drive and the relatively blind set of switchback curves along the ascent and descent of JDJ Drive, the Postal Service carrier is put in a situation of unreasonable risk to provide convenience to a few mail patrons," Nix wrote in the report, explaining why he was not recommending the mail delivery to each residence. "Most of the homes within the subdivision are located away from [the] roadway, suggesting that the residents would access their mailboxes when entering or leaving their properties. These movements would also pass by a community collection box facility located at the top of the hill or at the bottom of the hill...The additional mileage, the wear and tear on the Postal Service vehicle to ascend and descend the JDJ Subdivision roadways, and the potential of collisions due to the relatively blind switchback turns in JDJ Drive contribute to the impracticality and misuse of resources to provide individual mail service to a neighborhood which has been served by a central location of the individual mailboxes."
Smith is concerned over what he and other residents believe is unwillingness by the post office to address the safety issues of the location of the mailbox. Regarding the CBUs, Smith feels they could potentially be knocked off their foundation and into the back of a truck, which could then quickly drive off with them.
Coultress explained that while this is a possibility, it's very unlikely since CBUs are anchored in several inches of concrete and would be very difficult to dislodge from the ground.
"Everyone knows that if a criminal is desperate enough, anything can be done," he replied. "They've pulled up ATM machines. It would be a lot easier to steal mail from a rural mailbox instead of a CBU. Criminals wouldn't have to pull it up, but instead just drive up and take whatever they wanted."
Smith also feels the reports don't address the traffic difficulty of multiple vehicles stopping to get mail during the same timeframe. Smith also pointed out that other subdivisions with similar circumstances than JDJ have home delivery.
"You have a private gated community called West Haven that has narrower roads than ours and the mail carrier goes down those roads and makes in-front-of-house deliveries," he said. "At Inland Estates, they go going up a hill that's a steeper grade than we have and they make in-mail deliveries."
Smith added that he would like to see the postal service evaluate subdivisions on a case-by-case basis and rule in their favor for subdivisions. "I'd also like them to work with new developers to ensure safe delivery in new subdivisions," he said.
Coultress said that while the USPS does look at subdivisions and neighborhoods on a case-by-case basis.
"We look at the current mode of delivery," he said. "We used to deliver to everyone's door and then we changed to curb delivery. Subsequently, we went to centralized delivery, which is currently the most secure method of delivery."
The JDJ subdivision actually does have an elderly female who receives at-home mail delivery due to various health problems. Smith estimated that the mail delivery driver passes by up to 75 percent of the subdivision residences to get to her home. Since they are up there anyway, why not just go ahead and do home delivery for everybody? he wondered.
Coultress explained that the female resident is an exception and receives what's classified as "temporary delivery." With temporary delivery, the person is expected to either eventually recover from their illnesses or move.
Smith and other JDJ residents aren't alone in their concerns. They also have the support of Comal County Commissioner Jack Dawson along with County Engineer Tom Hornseth. In December 2003, Dawson wrote a letter to USPS District Manager Lawrence K. James stating that he, Hornseth and Public Engineer Jeff R. Rogers all felt that home delivery should be done at the subdivision.
"We feel that the removal of this mailbox cluster and the placement of individual mailboxes in this subdivision would enhance the safety of the area," Hornseth wrote in a November 2003 letter to Dawson.
Mail delivery at the subdivision is usually done from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., depending on the schedule.