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Question of mailbox move hits home

Raising scattered residential ire and drawing City Council attention, curbside mail delivery has become one of 1997's hot neighborhood issues.

And when about 200 curbside boxes appeared during the past two weeks in the Disston Heights area, the question generated more steam.

"My phone's ringing off the hook," said Jimmy Joe Biggerstaff, Disston Heights Civic Association president and City Council candidate.

"I'm taking a petition up, telling neighbors about it, told the mayor. We're getting ready to go to the council Thursday and raise hell," Biggerstaff said.

Council members already have been hearing via letters from some of their constituents. "Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Absolutely ridiculous," council member Bob Kersteen quoted from one missive.

The question is raised regularly on the campaign trail, surfacing at virtually every neighborhood forum. Both mayoral candidates initially expressed opposition to the Postal Service proposal, but challenger Bill Klein has since softened his stance.

"I'd have have to study that before I put my neck in that noose," Klein said at a recent Council of Neighborhood Associations forum.

Mayor David Fischer won applause when he answered the same question at that CONA forum: "I'm absolutely opposed to it. I'd fight it tooth and nail."

Postmaster Martha Worrell may have eased some concerns Tuesday when she told the City Council that curbside box installation will stop.

"We are definitely not going to pursue mandatory installation of boxes," Worrell said at a council workshop.

But she stopped short of promising a complete ban on curbside boxes, if some postal customers agree to their placement. And she said she still must consider the safety of Postal Service employees, including 511 carriers.

In Disston Heights, and a few weeks previously in a neighborhood south of the Woodlawn recreation complex, about 300 curbside boxes were put in as a study, Worrell said. The idea was to see whether curb delivery would be less expensive and safer for carriers, who can be vulnerable on walking routes to such accidents as dog bites.

Worrell said the study is complete and said that although she received 42 complaints, 1,400 residents said they approved of curbside delivery.

Nonetheless, Worrell said she wouldn't force the boxes on anyone. "I intend to work with the city and the City Council. I do not intend to cause any kind of major disagreement in this community," she said.

It is uncertain whether boxes already installed would be removed for residents who do not want them. "It is certainly something I would consider," Worrell said.

Meanwhile, curbside opponents are not letting the matter drop:

+ Councilman David Welch has placed the issue on the agenda for council's regular Thursday meeting and Fischer suggested that the council formally oppose further box installation while asking for removal of those already placed.

+ The CONA board will take it up Wednesday night. President Barbara Ellis said the board will probably take a position against curbside delivery.

+ The City Beautiful Commission, which is against curbside delivery, has asked the support of neighborhood associations.

Some residents of neighborhoods where the familiar, bread-loaf boxes have been installed have told Neighborhood Times they don't care one way or another.

But other residents dislike the boxes, citing aesthetics, inconvenience and concern that curb boxes are more vulnerable to vandals and mail thieves.

About five of the new mailboxes on 16th Avenue N already have small dents in them.

Vickie Ross, who lives on 14th Avenue N, said she objects to the way the boxes look.

"I was born and raised in this town," Ross said. "I remember when the (curbside mailboxes) came out. And what an improvement."

A city ordinance passed in 1968 ended curbside delivery for St. Petersburg. That law is still on the books, but the city's legal department said recently that it could be pre-empted by federal law if postal efficiency were at stake.

"Even at that, we should have some kind of input, if the citizens don't want something," Welch said. "That's not the gist of what government is all about."

Worrell said she plans to attend Thursday's council meeting.

_ Times staff writer Adam Smith contributed to this report.