Boston-based developer apologizes for Post Office fiasco

The Edgartown Post Office was forced to close Friday until further notice due to rain leaks caused by construction. Carnegie building is option.

The Edgartown Post Office is closed while repairs are made. — Photo by Sam Moore

Charles Hajjar, a Boston-based developer and seasonal Oak Bluffs homeowner, apologized this week for the disruptions caused by rainwater leaking into a building undergoing renovations that houses the Edgartown Post Office in Post Office Square in Edgartown at the Triangle.

Mr. Hajjar is adding a second floor and five second-story apartments to the Post Office Square complex that he owns. The complex is home to 16 business units. A heavy rainstorm Friday hit the project as carpenters were working on the roof.

Edgartown building inspector Lenny Jason advised a Post Office supervisor to close. The Post Office closed shortly after noon on Friday, disrupting service to thousands of postal customers who were sent trekking to the Vineyard Haven Post Office to pick up their mail.

At the Edgartown selectmen’s meeting on Monday, town administrator Pam Dolby told selectmen that the Post Office interior would need to be completely gutted because of water damage.

In the meantime, Edgartown officials have been attempting to work with the U.S. Postal Service to set up a temporary facility in town. On Wednesday, Stephen Doherty, a USPS public affairs spokesman in Boston, said there is “no timetable established to reopen the Edgartown location as of yet.”

Mr. Doherty also said no alternative locations are on the table. “There are no other locations being looked at at this point, as this is expected to be a temporary relocation,” he said.

Late Wednesday, Ms. Dolby emailed The Times to say she had met with a postal official earlier in the day about using the Carnegie building for a Post Office, and planned to meet with another postal official coming from Boston on Thursday.

‘Island guys’

In a telephone conversation Wednesday with The Times, Mr. Hajjar said his contractor, Dukes County Builders — formerly called Cornerstone Construction — has managed several of his on-Island projects.

“I hired a licensed and insured contractor to do the job,” Mr. Hajjar said. “He’s done three projects for me, good-sized projects, bigger-sized projects than this in terms of dollars. They’re reputable, they do a lot of work on the Island. They’re Island guys.”

Mr. Hajjar expressed regret about the direction the project took last week.

“Obviously, I apologize for the inconvenience,” Mr. Hajjar said. “I realize it’s a large inconvenience, and we’re doing everything we can to rectify this situation and to get the Post Office open.”

The Edgartown Lofts project, as it is known, went before the Edgartown planning board and was reviewed by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact. The initial proposal was for 10 apartments with a total of 20 bedrooms.

Mr. Hajjar said he is making no money from the project, and that if he could go back in time, he probably would not have pursued the development.

“I did it because I think it’s important to provide workforce housing,” Mr. Hajjar said. “You have a population that’s growing 3.5 percent a year and there’s not enough housing. To turn the clock back, I probably should have said ‘To heck with it.’”

Mr. Hajjar has been a summer resident on Martha’s Vineyard for nearly six years, and has visited since he was in high school. He is optimistic that repairs will be made and the Edgartown Post Office will be able to reopen soon.

“Who else would do it? The problems were caused by my contractor and, working together, my contractor and I are going to get it done,” Mr. Hajjar said. Mr. Hajjar said the construction crew is working until dark to correct the project.

“I don’t want to make any promises, but there’s no more water dripping there … I think we can get this thing open a lot faster than people think,” he said.

The Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, which occupies the other end of the building, also suffered some damage. The bank will take this opportunity to do more extensive renovations, Mr. Hajjar said.

No roof

Edgartown residents were caught off-guard Friday by the sudden closure of an institution that prides itself on delivering the mail despite snow, rain, heat, or “gloom of night.”

Pete Ambrozaitis went to the Post Office Friday afternoon to return a piece of incorrectly addressed mail that ended up in his mailbox, but he arrived to find the doors locked.

A sign on the door said, “Edgartown Post Office is closed until further notice. Within the next 24 hours we will make arrangements for mail and package pick up. We are sorry for the inconvenience and appreciate your support through this period.”

The note was signed by Edgartown Postmaster Lisa Panaccione.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places, and this is the worst Post Office I’ve ever been to,” he said.

Asked what the problem was, an Edgartown Post Office employee, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to comment, said, “They didn’t put a roof on.”

As Post Office patrons came and went Friday afternoon, construction workers were feverishly working on the building in the intermittent drizzle and rain.

USPS reacts

Late Friday, USPS spokesman Stephen Doherty sent a press release to news outlets advising that the Edgartown Post Office would “be closed temporarily due to issues related to water damage incurred as a result of leakage from recent storms while the building is being remodeled. While no firm timetable has been established to reopen the office, the building manager and contractor on site are working with the Postal Service to minimize any inconvenience to our customers.”

Unmindful of the realities of Island life, the press release said retail services would be available at the Woods Hole Post Office and at the Vineyard Haven Post Office.

Mr. Doherty said Edgartown postal customers would be able to retrieve their mail and packages at the Vineyard Haven Post Office until the Edgartown station reopens. “Box holders should bring proper identification to the Vineyard Haven Post Office when retrieving their mail. We thank our Martha’s Vineyard customers for their cooperation and their patience as we work to remedy this issue.”

‘Whole thing is ridiculous’

The Vineyard Haven Post Office received disgruntled Edgartown postal customers in an orderly fashion on Monday morning. Signs at the building’s two entrances directed

Edgartown postal box holders to the far end of the building, where a station has been set up for mail distribution, separate from the existing mail counter.

That morning, Edgartown planning board member Robert Sparks stopped by to pick up his mail. Online commenters have lashed out at the planning board for issuing the special permit that allowed Mr. Hajjar to add a second floor of apartments; he defended the board.

“We just issue permits. We don’t do construction,” Mr. Sparks said to people waiting in line. Mr. Sparks repeated his point in a conversation with The Times on his way out of the Post Office Monday morning.

“I had a chance to talk to a few unhappy Post Office customers,” Mr. Sparks said.

Edgartown resident and prominent businessman Gino Courtney gave up on the line and left before getting his mail. Mr. Courtney described the Edgartown branch closure as “unfortunate.” He said he checks his Post Office box every morning. On Monday, despite driving from Edgartown to Tisbury, he decided to go without.

Donna Enos of Edgartown, a nurse, said the Post Office closure has created extra frustration in her family, which is waiting on college acceptance letters just weeks before deposits for incoming freshman are due to universities.

“It’s not the Post Office’s fault, I get that,” Ms. Enos said. “It still doesn’t make it any better for any of us. Nobody thought anything through, from the designer of that stupid parking lot to the whole construction thing to the people who work in the buildings.”

Already, Ms. Enos said, mail delivery is delayed.

“My husband, his business, he gets checks,” Ms. Enos said. “He got some of his stuff. I had a package that was delivered on Friday. I got no package.”

She described ongoing frustrations and concerns about an apparently precarious construction site at the Edgartown Post Office.

“When I was walking through the parking lot to go in on Thursday, the day before they closed the Post Office, there were roof shingles on the side of the roof — I could see them. They weren’t nailed down. Thursday was a really windy day,” Ms. Enos said. “The whole thing is ridiculous. It’s not fair for anybody. I don’t even know who is in charge of the construction, but they’re horrible.”