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Georgetown, Tenleytown post offices good opportunities for Smart Growth

The Postal Service wants to convert a single-use post office into mixed-use development in Georgetown. They should extend that idea to their Tenleytown branch as well.

Georgetown post office. Photo by joseph a.

Our society has been shifting communication towards electronic media such as email, relying more on parcel services such as FedEx and UPS. That has created challenges for the Postal Service. This also creates an opportunity, however, to reuse USPS facilities that are no longer necessary because of reduced demand for mail service.

This past summer, the Postal Service announced that it is considering closing nearly seven hundred post offices nationwide. Instead of closing their Georgetown office, the Postal Service wants to sell its valuable property on 31st Street while still maintaining operations on the first floor of the two-story building. EastBanc plans to convert the basement and second floors of the Post Office building into condos, and later hopes to build town homes on what is currently a surface parking lot next to the historic stone building.

This proposal is very sensible for an agency that is struggling with declining customer demand. It lets the Postal Service maintain a branch in the community while leveraging its valuable real estate to gain much needed revenue.

The Georgetown location isn't the only opportunity for the Postal Service to partner with developers to rebuild its facilities and better utilize its property in walkable areas. Redeveloping the Friendship Station post office at 4005 Wisconsin Avenue, which is actually in Tenleytown, would greatly enhance Smart Growth along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor. The current Post Office consists of a surface parking lot and a one-story building that has a largely walled-off front along Wisconsin Avenue.

The buildings surrounding this post office on Wisconsin Avenue are moderately dense. Directly north on Wisconsin Avenue is a five-story residential building. Across the street and a bit north is a garish postmodern office building set back from the street and mostly walled off to surrounding pedestrian traffic. Immediately across the street on the western side of Wisconsin Avenue from the post office is a five-story office building with retail on the first floor. Fannie Mae's suburban-style headquarters and Sidwell Friends school are located to the south.

Left: area around the post office from Bing Maps.
Right: The post office. Image from Google Street View.

As with the Georgetown Post Office, USPS should seek a private developer for this facility that would allow the Postal Service to better utilize a valuable property that is just slightly over a half-mile from the Tenley metro station. A new residential building could be built that eliminates the surface parking lot on the north side of the parcel while maintaining the presence of the Post Office on the first floor of the new mixed-use property. Such creative partnerships are being used to rebuild the fire station in Southwest and potentially provide new police and fire stations in the West End.

The proposed Giant project and a Safeway in Tenley that actually utilizes the great potential of two nearby metro stations will significantly improve the Wisconsin Avenue corridor. Providing new housing for the neighborhood while maintaining the presence of this Post Office will also greatly enhance Tenleytown.


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Hmm, I'd think it make more sense to house the Post Office in the basement and have the 1st and 2nd floors be condos. How much is someone going to pay to live *below* a Post Office, even in Georgetown?

by Lauren on Nov 16, 2009 3:18 pm • linkreport

Post Office likely has ADA-accessibiliy issues that a basement apartment may not.

By the way, the best example of "mixed usse" of an old Post Office is the Postal Museum by Union Station. My understanding is that the Smithsonian owns the building (although there is also a Post Office in there) and charges rent to the Capital City Brewing Company for its use of the space and makes a tidy sum for its efforts.

by sunkister on Nov 16, 2009 3:50 pm • linkreport

Funny... I was just walking past this Post Office today and was thinking "I wonder what mixed-use development would look like here." Tenleytown has so much potential -- perhaps AU could look into this as a possible site for new grad student/faculty housing...further establish the university in the neighborhood.

by John on Nov 16, 2009 9:57 pm • linkreport

This would be a good site for a mixed use project. But I would rather see the post office located in Tenleytown itself. The current post office location generates a lot of traffic so if part of the deal of developing it into a mixed use project included relocating the post office to Tenleytown the neighbors of the current site would probably be netting out with a lot fewer vehicle movements. And by moving the post office to Tenleytown presumably a larger mix of its users would come on foot due to its proximity to the metro and the traffic impact of the post office would be lessened as well.

The tricky part would be coming up with a deal/lease/land swap that would be favorable for the USPS. There is a lot of really poorly utilized public land between Wilson High School and Wisconsin Avenue so perhaps whenever the Pedas lot is redeveloped a way could be found to include a new post office there carved out of excess public land from the surplus of redundant roadways back there. Or something could be worked out with Jemal to move the post office into the old Babe's site....

by TomQ on Nov 16, 2009 10:25 pm • linkreport

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