Mailboxes, the newest homeowners' success accessory, are giving municipal officials liability worries

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:13

    SPARTA-Like in many other Sussex County municipalities, Sparta residents occasionally have their mailboxes knocked down by snowplows or neighborhood vandals. However, it is what residents are doing in response that township officials are calling both dangerous and illegal. Mailboxes are being placed inside solid structures, oftentimes built from rock or brick. The concept has recently been gaining in popularity within certain Sparta developments, however it is an illegal practice. At last week's township council meeting, the township attorney, engineer, and manager explained to the members of the council the dangers immovable objects might pose when they are placed within the right-of-way of a road. According to township Attorney Brian Laddey, the structures open the township up to potential lawsuits if an injury were to occur as a result of an accident. Typically, the right-of-way for a roadway extends 11 feet beyond a curb on either side of a road. Township Manager Henry Underhill said that when constructing new roads the municipality removes large trees from the right-of-way as well as installs street signs and lamp posts that snap easily on contact to reduce the danger posed to drivers. In addition to creating a liability for the township, the structures are also illegal because an owner needs to obtain a permit to build one, and Sparta has not issued any for that purpose. The Sparta Post Office does not have a problem with the structures. The only postal regulations are that a box must be between 46 and 50 inches in height from the roadway surface, and within 12 inches of where the curb meets the road. However, by definition, it means that mailboxes have to be in the right-of-way. "What's allowed is something with a wooden or metal post that falls down when you hit it," clarified Underhill. The township recommends that mailboxes be placed between 8 and 12 inches back from the curb, not only to adhere to postal guidelines, but also to decrease the risk of mailbox damage during plowing. "I've lived here for years and a plow has never taken my mailbox down," said a resident last week while walking her dog on Deire Drive. She requested that her name be withheld for this story. "My question to the town is, can I put (a large mailbox structure) up or not, because it seems like everyone else can." Deire Drive is home to several of the mailbox structures, one of which is approximately six feet high. The woman claimed to have called the township to ask if she could put one up, but she was told she could not. She also claimed that elaborate landscaping had been done around one of the structures within the past two weeks, indicating the homeowner intends the structure to remain indefinitely. However the woman said that no action was being taken against the homeowner. Township officials are aware of many of the locations where the structures have been popping up. "All of the people that we know to be in violation have been notified," said Underhill. In addition, the township's newsletter will also post a message to residents letting them know that the structures are not permitted. Just what course of action the township will take to residencies in violation, has yet to be determined.