What is the legal address of residents who live in Montreat? That’s the question former Montreat commissioner Mary Standaert has been asking for the last several years.
On Jan. 9 she turned to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners for answers.
Standaert, whose second term as a member Montreat board of commissioners ended in December, read a statement to the seven-member county commission highlighting her concerns.
Citing herself as an example, Standaert noted the address on her state-issued driver's license indicates she lives within Montreat’s sole zip code, 28757. Her voter ID card, however, lists her physical address in Montreat as “Black Mountain, NC 28711.”
Voter registration cards indicate that the only polling location for Montreat voters is the Walkup Building, located at 300 Community Circle in Montreat. Yet the address of the building noted on those cards lists a Black Mountain address and zip code.
Standaert said that in her former role as a commissioner in Montreat she communicated with the county’s board of elections for several years about the matter. That board, according to Standaert, believes the issue is related to the Buncombe County Geographic Information System (GIS) or the U.S. Post Office.
Montreat’s issues with inconsistent physical addresses is not limited to voter registration, Standaert said.
“Type my address into Google Maps,” she said during an interview with The Black Mountain News the day after speaking to the county commission. “It shows my home, which is in Montreat, as being located in Black Mountain with a 28711 zip code.”
The discrepancy in the location of Montreat can cause problems in everyday life, according to resident Tom Frist, who described the issue as “totally confusing.”
Like Standaert, Frist’s physical address is in the town limits of Montreat, with a 28757 zip code. But he’s seen variations.
“People complain that they can’t find it on Google Maps when they’re trying to find the house,” he said of his home, built in 1996, on a road that has existed since the early 1960s. “When I had problems with my AT&T service - the tower was down - they couldn’t find my address in Montreat.”
“This causes problems with deliveries, directions, applications, service providers and things like that,” he said.
Standaert said she mentioned the issue to Buncombe County District 1 commissioner Al Whitesides during a chance encounter and that he encouraged her to bring the issue to the attention to the board during its regular monthly meeting.
“It appears that this issue will require the cooperation of multiple levels of government and agencies to reach a resolution,” she said.
Following Standaert's statements, the board asked Nathan Pennington, the interim director of the county's planning and development department, to look into the matter.
It turns out, according to Pennington's findings, that part of the answer may lie in how Montreat residents receive their mail.
"The part (of the address) that we take care of - as Buncombe County and part of our E-911 address responsibility - is to assign numerical physical structure access points for emergency responder services," Pennington said. "What is beyond our control is that the Post Office is responsible for assigning a city designation or a place name for a community like Leicester or Candler, for instance."
Montreat is an incorporated town, but residents do not receive home mail delivery. The town's 700-plus residents pick up their mail at the Montreat Post Office, which has operated since 1907.
"They are assigned P.O. boxes," Pennington said. "So I think the discrepancy is that, even though they have a unique zip code, because they go to the Post Office in Montreat and receive box numbers, the actual physical address shows up as Black Mountain at those structure points."
Pennington reached out to the regional Postmaster in Charlotte and the Black Mountain Postmaster Shelia Salyers, on behalf of Standaert, to inquire about the process of designating Montreat an official postal destination.
Another aspect related to the address ambiguity is the mining of data for mapping systems like Google Maps, Pennington said.
"Google has a proprietary algorithm that doesn't necessarily mine GIS data," he said. "We also provided Mary with a website address that may help with the Google Map issue, but that's not something that's in our control."