Beacon, Church Clash Over Lot Access

The Rev. John Williams, rector of St. Andrew & St. Luke Episcopal Church, stands at a parking lot that is the source of a dispute with the City of Beacon. Photo by J. Simms

The Rev. John Williams, rector of St. Andrew & St. Luke Episcopal Church, stands at a parking lot that is the source of a dispute with the City of Beacon. (Photo by J. Simms)

St. Andrew lawsuit says city violated 1987 agreement

The City of Beacon and St. Andrew & St. Luke Episcopal Church are locked in a stalemate nearly two weeks after the church filed a lawsuit over access to a city-owned parking lot where, according to the suit, church employees and parishioners have parked for more than 30 years. 

The lawsuit, filed June 26 in Dutchess County court, names the city, as well as Mayor Lee Kyriacou and City Administrator Chris White — both in their official capacities — as defendants. The following day, Dutchess Judge Thomas R. Davis issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the city from blocking St. Andrew’s access to the lot. 

The parking lot sits behind the Lewis Tompkins Hose Co. fire station and the church — which are side by side on South Avenue — and has been fenced off since construction began last month on what will become the city’s centralized fire facility. The gravel lot is being paved and upgraded during construction and, when complete, will be striped for 52 parking spaces, including ones compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and charging stations for electric vehicles. 

Contractors are also slated to drill more than a dozen geothermal wells beneath the lot to power heat pumps in the all-electric fire station. But none of that can happen until a judge rules on the dispute. 

St. Andrew alleges in court filings that the city lacks the authority to restrict church access to the parking lot because of a 1987 agreement that St. Andrew entered into with the Tompkins Hose Co. The deal stipulated that the fire company, which owned the lot at the time, and church would “have equal rights” to use the property.  

The church also contends that the city violated an agreement stemming from a 2006 lawsuit over the same lot. In that case, the church sued the fire company after it erected a locked fence around the property. That case was settled when Tompkins Hose removed the lock and agreed to post a sign stating that only the fire company and church could use the lot. 

The current lawsuit alleges that St. Andrew had been engaged in “good-faith dialogue” with Beacon officials when, on June 19, the city “unilaterally” erected a fence around the property and began storing construction equipment and building materials there. According to the suit, the fence and equipment “restrict and wrongfully intimidate” parishioners and others who would park in the lot to attend worship services, weddings, baptisms and funerals at St. Andrew. 

The suit seeks to force the city to remove the fence and restore the lot to its “original and intended condition.” If the city doesn’t do that, “irreparable damages” will continue, it says. 

However, the difference between the 2006 suit and what’s happening now is that the Tompkins Hose Co. sold the lot in 2020 to the city for $325,000. It opened to public parking after the sale. 

Court filings have been fast and furious since Davis issued his injunction on June 27. 

Two days later, City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis asked the judge to schedule an emergency conference due to the “compelling public interest” in constructing the $14.7 million fire station, which is expected to be complete in late 2024. Ward-Willis argued that the project is urgent because city firefighters and trucks have been moved off-site while the Tompkins Hose station is rebuilt from the ground up.

That same day, the church said in court filings that the city continued to block its access and asked Davis to hold the city, Kyriacou and White in contempt of court, a charge which, if upheld, could have led to fines and/or imprisonment. While the judge did not pursue contempt charges, he ordered the city not to add to the piles of rubble and building debris on the lot. 

On Wednesday (July 5), the two sides failed to reach an agreement after a 2 1/2-hour mediation hearing in Poughkeepsie. The Rev. John Williams, the rector at St. Andrew, said afterward that he expected Davis to issue a new temporary order by the weekend. 

But Ward-Willis on Thursday asked Davis to give the city until the end of the day Monday (July 10) to submit a proposal that the attorney said “may factor into any temporary order” and “may dispense with the need for further litigation.” The judge granted the request Thursday afternoon.

In the interim, street parking is available for churchgoers. The Beacon City Council last month agreed to temporarily close the northbound lane of traffic between Beacon and Main streets on South Avenue to create 23 on-street spaces while construction is ongoing at the fire station. 

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