Columbia neighborhood covets Clarksville ZIP; Residents fight P.O. for new address to raise land values


They are officially located in Columbia, but Peter Butziger and 24 of his neighbors are demanding an address that befits the pastoral setting for their expensive homes -- Clarksville.

All 25 homeowners in the Pointers Overlook community -- an upscale subdivision on the border between Clarksville and Columbia -- contend that since the Postal Service affixed a Columbia address to them, their property values have dropped, their bills have been delayed or lost, and police and rescue personnel cannot find them.

"Columbia has a persona of being overcrowded and too overly regulated," Butziger adds. "Clarksville is a prestigious place to live in."

The residents want to change the neighborhood's ZIP code from 21044 to Clarksville's 21029, but postal officials have denied their request.

Postal Service officials "are turning a blind eye to us," says Butziger, president of the Pointers Overlook Community Association. "They're trying to pretend that it's not their issue, but it's all in their hands."

But an official in the Postal Service's Baltimore district argues that the Howard County homeowners have not justified an address change.

"Those addresses were never listed in Clarksville," says William Neal, manager of delivery and customer service programs. "It was Columbia when they moved in there. We have yet to see anything that causes a delay in mail, a delay in service."

The neighborhood's clash with postal officials swirls around the location of Pointers Overlook, an affluent subdivision of $250,000 to $400,000 colonial-style homes on the north side of Guilford Road, and several hundred feet south of Route 32 and east of Clarksville Middle School on South Trotter Road.

Although postal officials determined more than 20 years ago that any homes east of South Trotter Road and north of Guilford Road would have a Columbia address, the residents counter that the previous landowner, the Botanical Gardens nursery, had a Clarksville address.

When Ryan Homes started building Pointers Overlook in 1997, it was advertised as a desirable neighborhood "in prestigious Clarksville," the homeowners say.

But as potential buyers moved toward paying the closing costs, they said Ryan sales representatives informed them that the address was Columbia.

"They took out a pen and crossed out 'Clarksville' on the contract and wrote in 'Columbia,' " recalls David Jupiter, a resident.

Some homeowners, including Butziger and Jupiter, sought and received several thousands of dollars in compensation from Ryan. Butziger characterized the money as "hush money" and declined to say specifically how much it was.

Some residents didn't receive compensation.

"I would like to see what I perceive to be a wrong corrected," says Norma Lee Todd, a homeowner.

Bob Coursey, director of marketing for Ryan Homes, declined to answer a question about the monetary compensation, but provided a letter dated May 8, 1997, that was sent to all customers informing them of the address change.

He acknowledged the address problem and defended the company's advertisement.

"The parcels of land that the developer purchased from individual homeowners were irrefutably Clarksville addresses," Coursey says.

"All the information we had to go by was that this was a Clarksville address."

Many of the residents reserve their anger for the Postal Service. They have complained about missing letters and bills, which they say have led to their phone and electrical service being cut off.

Dr. David George, a dentist, says two patients trying to find him through the 411 information line during a recent weekend were told that there was no David George listed in Columbia. He was listed as residing in Clarksville, he says.

Doug Cornell says it took 90 minutes for a police officer to respond to a home alarm system that he inadvertently set off because the officer believed that the community was in Clarksville.

"I ate dinner by the time they got to my house," Cornell recalls. "There's no excuse for it."

The homeowners also acknowledge that they are trying to protect their property values.

Internet research compiled by Butziger shows that, in general, the average owner-occupied home value in Clarksville is nearly double the home value in Columbia.

Neal says the Postal Service considers inefficient service -- not property values -- a factor for changing addresses.

He says that despite dozens of letters from the residents, not one has produced evidence of lost mail or inefficient service. He says the national database maintained and updated by the Postal Service correctly lists residents of Pointers Overlook with a Columbia address.

"We've checked with the local fire department and the police, and everyone says, 'We know where they are,' " Neal says. "They cannot tell me of a participating company whose mail did not get to them."

The residents of Pointers Overlook say they will continue to pepper postal officials with letters and won't quit until they are granted a change of address.

"It's not something that is going to go away," George says.

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