The Board of Aldermen will soon conduct a “pre-survey” to see how much residents with Chapel Hill mailing addresses want to change them to Carrboro. Nearly half of Carrboro’s map falls under the 27516 ZIP code, and those residents have a Chapel Hill mailing address.
The electronic survey is expected to show whether or not residents would favor the change or are even aware that they would be affected. A larger survey will follow later this year.
“A lot of people in Lake Hogan Farms don’t realize they live in Carrboro,” said Alderwoman Randee Haven-O’Donnell. Along with Mayor Lydia Lavelle, Haven-O’Donnell has a Chapel Hill address.
The process to make the change is fairly simple. The U.S. Postal Service will send out a written survey to all affected residents and ask them if they want a Carrboro address and 27510 ZIP code.
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That’s it – yes or no.
When the response to the survey is in, if a simple majority (50 percent plus one) favor the change, the postal service will consider the request. Postal regulations allow such a survey once per decade, so a negative response closes the door until 2025.
The postal service guidelines emphasize that changes to postal codes and town identity should be part of long-term planning processes. This avoids re-defining zones because a subdivision was annexed into a town or because of other relatively small changes.
The affected areas must also be contiguous either with the existing 27510 zone or with each other to avoid the creation of standalone “pockets” of a particular ZIP code area.
The town is permitted to do its own preliminary survey that is expected to both educate residents about the issue and give the board some feedback.
The first thing the aldermen want those residents to know is that they don’t live in Chapel Hill. Discussing the pre-survey’s language, Alderwoman Jacquie Gist suggested taking on the issue directly.
“It needs to say ‘hey, you live in Carrboro,’” she said.
Town staff plans to conduct that survey using some email lists they have for neighborhoods and by posting it on the town’s website. The aldermen can also hold a public hearing on the topic.
The town will develop an outreach plan. “We want to make sure that everyone affected has a chance to participate,” Lavelle said.
In terms of the service provided by the post office, the change would mean that when Carrboro residents have to pick up a package that couldn’t be delivered, they would go to the Carrboro Post Office off N.C. 54 instead of the Timberlyne office in Chapel Hill.
Home delivery for all of the 27516 ZIP code area (including a significant amount of Chapel Hill) is already based in Carrboro.
The postal service considers ZIP codes to be long-term assets that are critical to the operation of its services. The agency’s guidelines discourage towns from making changes for reasons of branding or marketing, but will consider them for “municipal identity.”
Generally, the post office guidelines indicate that the agency will reassign addresses and ZIP codes only when it can reasonably be expected to improve the delivery of mail. No mention has been made in the aldermen’s deliberations about any difficulty in mail services.
The online survey tool would allow multiple responses from one person and responses from people who don’t live in Carrboro, so the results of the survey will not be scientifically valid. The board has not decided what level of interest it would consider enough to pursue a change.