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City puts limits on curb mailboxes

But the ordinance is likely to land the city in a court fight with the Postal Service, the city's attorney says.

By LEONORA LAPETER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- An angry City Council took steps Thursday to prevent the proliferation of curbside mailboxes in some neighborhoods, setting up a possible courtroom battle with the U.S. Postal Service.

Moving quickly to amend a city ordinance banning the mailboxes, the council is considering requiring residents who install curbside mailboxes to get a permit or face a fine of up to $500. The move probably will create a face-off with postal officials, who have ignored the city's 32-year-old ordinance banning the curbside mail receptacles on and off for three years.

"We've gone through this with the Postal Service and the postmaster general, and I feel misled," council member Bill Foster said. "Representations were made that the only time they'd put the boxes up is where hazardous conditions exist, but now they're up to their old tricks again."

Foster was responding to reports by residents that postal officials added 200 to 300 curbside boxes in Meadowlawn sometime between mid-April and the end of June. City officials have received promises from postal officials over the past few years that the practice would disappear except in cases where carriers faced hazards, such as a vicious dog.

Council member Bea Griswold, whose district includes Meadowlawn, had asked city staff to find a solution to the problem. The proposed permits would be temporary to allow residents with hazards in their yards or errant dogs to fix the problem. Then the curbside mailboxes would be removed and house delivery would resume.

Council member Kathleen Ford was concerned that a resident might be penalized after unwittingly installing a curbside box. City attorneys said they would attempt to word the ordinance to place more responsibility on postal officials or contractors who might erect the mailboxes. Postal officials maintain the city doesn't have the authority to regulate the federal Postal Service.

"I would say the first time we try to enforce this, we'll be in federal court very shortly," said City Attorney John Wolfe.

Council members also asked that the ordinance not include a provision for up to 60 days of jail time, as is the case with other city ordinance violations.

City Council has scheduled a public hearing Aug. 3 on the proposed ordinance amendment.

"We've tried everything with this," said Mayor David Fischer, who joined the discussion with the council Thursday. "This won't be the end of it, but this will be the first shot across the bow. We're trying to get their attention."

In other business, the council Thursday spent another $588,940 at the downtown BayWalk parking garage, most of it for an air conditioning system originally promised to the developer of the entertainment and shopping complex.

The Sembler Co., the project's developer, originally had offered to install a chilled water system that could be shared by the BayWalk complex, Florida International Museum and the adjacent SouthTrust Bank. But the bank decided not to join the deal, so Sembler reverted to its original agreement that the city provide an air conditioning system at the garage, said Michael Connors, the city's director of engineering.

The city set aside $860,000 for just such contingencies. In addition to the air conditioner, Connors also sought to add architectural details that will make the six-story building look less boxy and provide additional safety.

Among the changes:

Moving a pair of elevators so that both have a glass front that can be seen from the side of the structure.

Adding corner pieces and other design elements to give the building more character.

Installing an audio system in the garage that would also be piped into the elevators, elevator lobbies and the arcade.

The BayWalk complex is scheduled to open Sept. 30, and Connors said he did not predict any additional costs to the city, which is being charged $12.2-million by Irwin Contracting for design and construction.

-- Leonora LaPeter can be reached at 893-8640 or lapeter@sptimes.com.

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