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Flanders Residents Remain Hopeful That A New Zip Code Is In Their Future

January 16, 2017
In The News

Evelyn Voulgarelis knew the ambulette driver taking her home following a two-week stay at the Westhampton Care Center after surgery a few years ago would get lost even before he pulled out of the facility’s parking lot.He turned down her directions, stating that he would input her home address—East Street in Flanders—in the vehicle’s GPS.

Ms. Voulgarelis said the system was working fine at first, directing her driver to County Road 105, but everything changed once they reached the highway’s intersection with Flanders Road. “I said, ‘You need to turn right at this corner,’” she recalled during a recent interview. “And he said, ‘No, no, no. I have my GPS.’”

As she predicted, the device instructed him to turn left and toward downtown Riverside and, a short time later, they were driving around Riverhead Town, his GPS trying to direct them to different East Street, this one located in Aquebogue. After being lost for several minutes, the driver finally gave up and asked Ms. Voulgarelis if she could provide him with directions to her home.

“Then he finally apologized,” she added.

Though she was never scared during the experience, noting that she was only being transported home and not to the hospital because of an emergency, Ms. Voulgarelis said her experience highlights a problematic and inherent issue in her corner of Southampton Town: most GPS devices fail to recognize her hometown of Flanders as both it, as well as the hamlets of Riverside and Northampton, continue to share the same 11901 zip code as neighboring Riverhead Town.

As a result, she explained, many emergency vehicles, such as fire trucks, have the potential to get lost when responding to alarms, while U.S. Postal Service employees, as well as UPS and FedEx drivers, often deliver important packages, like prescription medications, to the wrong addresses because they are following their faulty GPS systems.

The problem is that the tri-hamlet area and Riverhead Town share many of the same street names, resulting in out-of-town visitors being steered by their GPS units to the wrong addresses, and delivery drivers either getting lost or leaving packages at the wrong homes. While she and many of her neighbors have learned to accept and deal with many of the issues, Ms. Voulgarelis is always worried what will happen when a true emergency arises, such as a house fire, and the responding agency goes to the wrong street.

“If someone needs an ambulance, and they’re too sick to say where they are, the ambulance might not get there,” Ms. Voulgarelis said.

For those and other reasons, Ms. Voulgarelis and many of her neighbors remain hopeful that a bill being pushed by freshly reelected U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin—legislation that will, among other things, create a new and still undecided zip code for the hamlets of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton—will be approved in 2017. Although previous efforts by his immediate predecessor and other congressmen came up short, Mr. Zeldin remains confident that the bill introduced by U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, will gain approval soon.

The bill, called H.R. 6303, primarily designates new facilities for the United States Postal Service, though it also includes language mandating that the hamlets of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton get their own zip code. In 2012, Mr. Chaffetz helped a community in Salt Lake City County, part of his legislative district, with similar issues secure its own zip code.

The latest bill was approved last year by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—the committee that has jurisdiction over the post office—and later approved by the House of Representatives in November. But the measure was blocked in the Senate by those interested in pushing through their own postal reform bill, according to Jennifer DiSiena, a spokeswoman for Mr. Zeldin, and, as a result, Mr. Chaffetz’s bill must now be reintroduced in the House though it is unclear exactly when that will happen.

“Unfortunately, the Senate failed to act on these bills before the end of the year,” she said. “Congressman Zeldin will be working closely with Chairman Chaffetz to reintroduce legislation this year and will continue to pursue every legislative option available to achieve the goal of a new zip code for these communities. In the end, we will also need the Senate to pass this legislation in order for it to become law.”

She added that Mr. Chaffetz plans to reintroduce his bill in the House of Representatives this year under a new bill number. Ms. DiSiena also wrote in the same email that she expects the bill to easily pass the House before being reintroduced in the Senate. She also thinks Mr. Chaffetz’s measure will not face any opposition this time around. If it passes the Senate, the legislation must then be signed by the president.

Angela Huneault, who has lived on Nassau Avenue in Flanders for 37 years, said she has been pushing for a new zip code for her hometown for two decades. She explained that her street shares a name with another road in Riverhead, resulting in her medication often being shipped to the wrong address.

Ms. Huneault attended a meeting with Mr. Zeldin and Mr. Chaffetz over the summer and held in the shadow of the Big Duck in Flanders, where the congressmen explained the intent of their legislation. Following that gathering, Ms. Huneault said she felt confident that her hometown would soon have its own zip code. “I’m very encouraged that it is going to go through,” she said.

As with Ms. Voulgarelis, one of Ms. Huneault’s most pressing concerns has to do with the confusion created by the shared zip code when it comes to hindering the response times of emergency vehicles. She pointed out that seconds are critical when someone is suffering from a heart attack and responding paramedics cannot afford to be sent in the wrong direction.

Carol Findlay, who lives on East Street in Flanders, shared that her radiologist’s computer system refuses to accept her home address, explaining that it keeps switching her address to East Street in Riverhead. “So, finally I said, ‘Just leave it Riverhead—I don’t care,’” Ms. Findlay recalled. “It’s that kind of little stuff that is so frustrating.”

Having her packages shipped to the wrong address, and her mail left in the wrong mailbox, are such common occurrences that Ms. Findlay actually gets excited when she orders something online and is allowed to input her full nine-digit zip code. Those extra four digits, which are almost never required, help sorters determine where mail should be directed. In Flanders, the complete zip code is actually 11901-4203, while the complete zip code for those living in Riverhead is 11901-8052—though few people actually know and use them.

Having its own unique zip code will also provide Flanders with a better sense of community, according to Ms. Findlay.

“We’re not Riverhead,” she said. “We’re the Town of Southampton. It’s another confusion. Most people assume Flanders is Riverhead, and I think people in Southampton wish Flanders was in Riverhead.”

“I think it’s really important to have our own zip code because we are like a non-community without it,” added Ms. Voulgarelis. “A couple of times I said the most important thing this town needs is its own zip code. You’re never going to have an entity [or] a feeling of place if you don’t have a zip code.”