The U.S. Postal Service has decided not to open a permanent facility in Palmetto Bay.
The Postal Service originally planned to relocate at 8950 SW 152nd St., near the Coral Reef Estates neighborhood. The federal agency did not say why it won’t open an post office at this location.
“We are exploring different alternatives; however, if no suitable location is found, the Postal Service may be forced to occupy a temporary location,” the USPS said in a statement emailed to the Miami Herald.
The Postal Service had not purchased the property at 8950 SW 152nd St. and was likely looking to lease the site from its current owner, Michael Sontag. Neither Sontag nor the USPS would confirm whether they are negotiating a contract or have already signed a lease. Sontag did not comment on why the Postal Service had canceled its plans to move into his property.
The proposed move was prompted because the Postal Service was unable to renew the lease at its current location, 13101 S. Dixie Hwy. in Pinecrest. That lease expires in May.
The proposed move to Palmetto Bay was not popular with Coral Reef Estates residents, who said the retail and delivery operation would bring more traffic and noise to the area, reduce the green space on the property and, in the long run, lower property values.
Palmetto Bay’s zoning laws dictate that the property at 8950 SW 152nd St. cannot be a high-intensity use such as the one USPS was proposing. But as a federal agency, the USPS could override the village’s zoning laws, regardless of whether the post office leases or owns the property.
In a letter to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican congresswoman who represents the area, the USPS wrote: “With respect to zoning restrictions, in rare instances, we invoke the Supremacy Clause to override zoning restrictions when we have determined, such as in this situation, that no feasible alternative exists.”
But the property where the USPS was going to move also comes with two legal covenants that stay with the property even if it were to be sold to a different owner. One of the covenants restricts the uses of the property. The facility the USPS had proposed exceeded those restrictions, said Scott Silver, attorney for the Alliance of Coral Reef Estates, the homeowners association.
Signed in 2001 between the then property owner and the Alliance of Coral Reef Estates, the covenant is, in essence, a right the homeowners association has on 8950 SW 152nd St.
“When you bargain on restrictions on your neighbor’s property, that’s a property right that you have. That’s a property right the same as if they were building on your land. And even the federal government cannot trump private citizens’ property rights,” said Silver. “You own a right that limits uses next door, and that is a property right.”
Chuck Latshaw, president of the Alliance of Coral Reef Estates homeowners association, said the covenant’s intent was to keep that property as a buffer between the business activity on the west near U.S. 1 and the residential area on the east.
The new facility would have been facing Coral Reef Drive, a thoroughfare that residents say is already backed up during rush hour as it leads to several schools, South Dixie Highway and Jackson South Community Hospital. Since westbound Coral Reef Drive is congested, drivers often take shortcuts and speed through roads in Coral Reef Estates. The post office would have increased traffic on Coral Reef Drive, prompting drivers to take alternative routes through the neighborhood.
“Frustrated drivers are not necessarily the safest drivers,” said Mary Pettit, a resident and member of the Alliance of Coral Reef Estates.
Before the USPS announced it had canceled its plans, the Alliance of Coral Reef Estates proposed a series of mitigation points to the post office. Those included building a buffer on the side facing 89th Court, adhering to village noise and lighting regulations and investing in a right-turn-only lane on westbound Coral Reef Drive at U.S. 1.
Because the village's ability to limit the U.S. Postal Service's use of the property was limited, the Village Council worked to address the issue in other ways. At a recent meeting, the council unanimously approved an initiative to have the village work with the state of Florida and Miami-Dade County to mitigate traffic at the intersection of Southwest 152nd Street, a county road, and U.S. 1, a state road.
Mayor Shelley Stanczyk said the post office's decision not to move into the village is a positive outcome, and that the village will continue to work with the state and county to tackle congestion at the intersection.
“It will give the post office an opportunity to find a better location that is not abutting a residential area,’’ said Stanczyk.