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Stripped of a Zip

A few digits could cause a big shift for north Denver postal customers.

Rumors of the zip code shuffle started bubbling through parts of Sloan Lake and West Highland -- north Denver neighborhoods that had been happy with their 80212 label -- a few months ago.

Then came the special-delivery surprise: Not only was the United States Postal Service proposing to move some postal routes in that corner of Denver to a different zip, but the new code, 80214, largely belonged to another county. That meant that postal services would also switch, from the Alcott station at 3700 Tennyson Street to an outpost in the tiny city of Edgewater, across Sheridan Boulevard in Jefferson County.

North Denver is not alone: More than 6,000 Lakewood addresses using the 80215 zip code are earmarked to become part of the 80214 crowd. And their mail carriers will no longer be based at the Lakewood station, 10799 West Alameda Avenue.

"The good news is that those customers are actually going to be closer to the Edgewater station. They should get better service and convenience," says USPS spokesman Al DeSarro.

A formal notice will go out once the change has been approved, DeSarro says. And then, as is the case nationally, there will be a one-year grace period before people are expected to use the new zip exclusively.

Still, the proposal alarmed residents like Ray Defa, president of the West 29th Avenue Neighborhood Association. "We live in Denver," he says, "not Jefferson County."

Members of Defa's group set up a meeting with recently appointed Denver postmaster Lloyd H. Wilkinson to register their concern, sending fliers to some 350 nearby residents to alert them to the February 19 gathering. Somehow the mail got through, and seventy or so people showed up at the offices of Made in Colorado, one of the affected businesses, at 4847 West 29th Avenue.

Wilkinson and area postal manager Julie Joy Rodriguez explained the problem: The Alcott station was too cramped. And because zip code changes can only be submitted to Washington, D.C., every two years, they didn't want to wait until service suffered in the area. However, after 80212 loyalists offered alternatives to the proposed "realignment" of 2,200 addresses in routes covering 20th Avenue to 32nd Avenue and Osceola Street to Sheridan, the postal officials hinted that they might tinker with the boundaries. Still, some residents were left scratching their heads after the two-hour session.

"All [Wilkinson] would say is that the Edgewater post office is underutilized," Defa says.

Neighbors wonder why postal officials don't just shift Jefferson County residents into the hungry 80214 zip. Or, they suggest, authorities could rent extra space nearby for the Alcott facility.

"That would create a catch-22 and not help the overcrowding," Wilkinson says, pointing out that realignments take place from time to time here and elsewhere. (Colorado got six new zip codes on July 1, 2000, but none were within Denver city limits. In 1999, a portion of zip code 80631 in eastern Greeley was transferred to 80634.)

He also notes that the Edgewater station already has routes in Denver as well as Jefferson County, a fact he mentioned at the town hall meeting. "We're not trying to force anyone to go anywhere. They can still use the Alcott station," he says. "This is just a way of being more efficient."

Still, neighbors had a variety of complaints. Some decried the costs of switching zip codes that have been printed on company letterhead and business cards or even embedded in software. Others worried that emergency services, insurance rates and, yes, mail delivery, could be negatively impacted, since 80214 would straddle the county line.

"People have a lot of concerns, some valid, some not so serious," says Frank Szipszky, who operates Made in Colorado and relies on the trusty 80212 to conduct business.

"It's a tremendous burden," adds Defa, a self-employed interior designer who estimates that it will cost him hundreds of dollars to have an artist redo his company literature.

Two days after the meeting, Wilkinson wrote a letter to the neighborhood association stating that he "appreciated the opportunity to allay some fears concerning our plans to move several routes from 80212 to the neighboring 80214 zip code area." He acknowledged that "the concern expressed by your neighbors for insurance company rates by zip code and city/county service areas is being reviewed. When there is information to be shared, I will let you know."

News of the switch has not been received well on the western side of Sheridan Boulevard, either. "I haven't the foggiest idea of what they're thinking," says Mike Holt, owner of Don's Carburator Remanufacturing Company, 5440 West 29th Avenue, which is in the 80214 zone. He scoffs at the idea that the Edgewater station is some sleepy little outpost. "I tried to go down there and buy stamps with my credit card at 9 a.m. last Saturday, and the parking lot was overflowing!" he says. "I couldn't get near the place."

Wilkinson acknowledges that Edgewater does get busy "from time to time," but he maintains that the 1991 facility is still not buzzing at full capacity.

There is no timeline as to when the proposed switch might take place. And although Defa and his group don't know what effect, if any, their meeting had, Wilkinson's letter may have provided a ray of hope. "I look forward to further dialogue on this issue," he wrote.

For once, postal customers are hoping that things move slowly.

 
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