In a step that residents say has been a long time coming, the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to bring a post office back to Clarksville four years after the post office there closed.
"You have said the most beautiful words on this topic I've heard in awhile," said Jerry Golabowski at a packed public meeting on Wednesday, where the move was announced.
Since the USPS office on Auto Drive closed on Aug. 12, 2011, some residents trekked up to 12 miles to mail and retrieve packages. The office closed when property owners Walter and Ilene Veasel decided not to renew the lease, fearing losses as a result of rent decreases.
At the public meeting on Wednesday, USPS asked for recommendations about the new facility's location. USPS does not plan to reopen the location on Auto Drive because the property — which is around 3,000 square feet — does not meet the needs of the growing population in Clarksville, said Richard Hancock, a retail specialist for the postal service.
"The timeline depends entirely on if we find a pre-existing building," Hancock told residents who were concerned about what they said was a lack of empty buildings in Clarksville. Hancock estimated the office, if located in a pre-existing building, could open in a year.
"I'm not prepared to give any exact projections," he said.
The quasi-governmental agency is looking for a location with more than 5,000 square feet, 40 parking spaces and a station for carrier operations, said Hancock.
"This is not a Starbucks," Hancock told residents. "This is not just something we put on a corner."
The public meeting with residents is a formality required by federal law. Thirty days after the meeting, USPS sets in motion a series of "complex" commercial and real estate investigations on possible properties, effects on traffic flows and other approval processes.
The meeting was simply a "fact finding mission," said Hancock.
After years of waiting, residents like Steven Kendall, who owns Kendall Hardware on Route 108, said they were cautiously optimistic about the news.
"If they find a pre-existing building, it's going to be two years. If they had to build one, I'd say three," said Kendall. It takes him almost 40 minutes on a round trip to the Ellicott City post office, he said.
"I was going to offer my tour around town to this gentleman," said Kendall, of the USPS representative. "Five thousand feet and a loading dock is going to be hard to find."
Kathy Bonebreak, who lives on Guilford Road in Clarksville, acknowledged the public meeting on Wednesday was just the beginning of what could be a long process. She is used to waiting: her family makes frequent 10-mile trips to Ellicott City's post office to retrieve and mail packages for her husband's orthodontistry business..
"It's very frustrating for small businesses," Bonebreak said. "It sounds like there are a lot of variables that haven't been identified yet. I'm not sure one year is realistic. We hope that it is but who knows."
For Golabowski, a retired engineer who has lived in Clarksville for 34 years, any news was good news.
"I'm so happy to hear they want to build a bigger post office. I just hope they can find a good location for it." said Golabowski, who travels seven miles from his home on Route 108 to the post office in Ellicott City. "Right now, we have nothing. If they can do something in a year or a year and a half, that would be wonderful."
Bill Banworth, who has lived in Clarksville for 22 years, expects the process from the proposal to reality will take up to three years.
"That's a lot better than no good outlook. At this point, it's good news. Something's moving. Something's happening," Banworth said.
Residents can submit letters recommending possible locations for the site to firstname.lastname@example.org.