Arguing that a U.S. Postal Service proposal to relocate the Venice Post Office operations to a facility across the Windward Avenue Circle would create an increased burden on the property, a Venice residents group has called for the federal agency to undergo a standard permitting process for such projects.

Citing a need to consolidate operations nationwide with a drop in mail volume, the Postal Service has announced plans to relocate the post office at 1601 Main St. approximately 400 feet away to the Venice carrier annex property at 313 Grand Blvd., which would be remodeled. Postal officials stress that the plan would not have any impact on mail delivery to residents or businesses, and the addresses of Post Office Box holders would remain the same.

Local community members, including the Venice Stakeholders Association and Venice Neighborhood Council, have expressed concerns with the planned closure and sale of the historic Post Office building, which was constructed as part of a project of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) and contains a 1941 mural by artist Edward Biberman. The “Story of Venice” mural was commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts of the United States and depicts the early history of Venice with the image of community founder Abbot Kinney at the center.

Some residents have also taken issue with the proposed move to the annex site nearby. In a letter to the Postal Service, John Henning, an attorney representing the Venice Stakeholders Association, said the transfer of retail operations to a facility that currently has no retail services would lead to increased traffic, parking problems and other impacts in the area.

“The relocation of this major retail operation would represent a dramatic intensification of the use of the Venice Carrier Annex property, and would result in significantly more traffic, noise and other impacts on the surrounding residential neighborhood and the nearby coastal areas,” Henning wrote.

In addition, Henning noted that the proposed project lies within the coastal zone and would be characterized as “development” under the California Coastal Act due to the apparent increased intensity of the use of land. Any such project would therefore be required to obtain a coastal development permit from the city of Los Angeles and the California Coastal Commission, the attorney wrote.

But in an email response to Henning, Charles Posner, a coastal program analyst for the Coastal Commission, said that as a federal entity, the Postal Service is not required to receive a coastal development permit from the commission for new or modified postal facilities.

“The Postal Service can meet the Coastal Act requirements through the Federal Consistency Determination process,” Posner wrote. “The federal entity issues their own coastal approval, and the commission can concur or make suggestions if there are coastal impacts. Our records show that this process was followed for a new Venice postal facility in 1985.”

Henning said the association would still request that the federal agency apply for a coastal permit despite the finding that it is not legally required to do so. Any other applicant besides the federal government that was proposing to intensify the use of an existing structure would be subjected to the coastal development permit process, he said. A development permit would help determine if the project should proceed or if any impacts could be mitigated, the attorney noted.

“The coastal development permit process is a very important process that protects both the coastal neighborhood and the people who visit the coast,” Henning said.

Mark Ryavec, president of the stakeholders association, said he encourages the Postal Service to go through the same process that other developers would be required to follow if a project were adding operations and more traffic.

“We’re asking them to do what any other property owner would have to do if they were going to add this traffic,” Ryavec said.

Richard Maher, spokesman for the Postal Service in Los Angeles, said he could not comment on the coastal development permit request, but noted that the “Postal Service always complies with any regulations that we are required to.”

He explained that the project would involve an internal remodel of the annex facility, and although customer traffic will be transferred there, the building would not be expanded and no new construction would take place. In regards to concerns about increased parking problems, Maher said the plan includes a reconfiguration of the parking lot.

The concerns of the stakeholders association and other comments by the public have been received and will be reviewed by the Postal Service headquarters in Washington, D.C., which will make the final decision, Maher said.

A primary concern of residents has been to ensure that the public would have continued access to the Biberman mural if the historic post office building is sold, something that Maher said is stipulated in the building’s title. As the postal agency moves forward with its plans for the historic Venice Post Office, Ryavec said his group hopes to receive an assurance that access to the mural and WPA building is maintained, to help preserve a part of Venice’s history.

“I think it’s an important part of Venice’s history,” he said. “We are losing a lot of (the history), and when we have the opportunity to take a building that speaks of a time nearly 80 years ago, we should do what we can to keep it in place for posterity.”

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