No End in Sight

Beacon, church likely headed to trial next year

Barring a settlement, a dispute between the City of Beacon and St. Andrew & St. Luke Episcopal Church over access to a city-owned parking lot looks like it will stretch well into 2024.

Dutchess County Judge Thomas Davis on Sept. 11 agreed to give the city until Feb. 15 to complete its discovery, or gathering of evidence, in preparation for a trial. The judge’s order is a compromise between Nov. 13, the date requested by the church, and June 30, the date requested by the city.

St. Andrew sued the City of Beacon, Mayor Lee Kyriacou and City Administrator Chris White in June, shortly after demolition began at the Lewis Tompkins Hose Co. fire station on South Avenue. After razing the structure, the city plans to build a $14.7 million facility that will serve as Beacon’s centralized fire station.

The church, at 15 South Ave., charges that city officials had “unilaterally” fenced off a parking lot behind the church and stored construction equipment and building materials there.

Attorneys for St. Andrew argued that a 1987 agreement between the church and the Tompkins Hose Co. — which owned the gravel parking lot at the time — ensured that parishioners could use it for worship services and church events. The city, which purchased the lot from the fire company in 2020 and opened it to public parking, maintains that the 1987 agreement is invalid.

The lot is slated to be paved and striped for 52 parking spaces during construction. Sixteen geothermal wells will be drilled beneath it to power heat pumps in the all-electric fire station.

On July 12, Davis ordered the church to accept the city’s temporary proposal of 22 spaces in a lot it constructed at 21 South Ave., adjacent to the disputed lot. In addition, the city has reserved 17 spaces on South Avenue and its City Hall parking lot on Sunday mornings for churchgoers.

Davis also ruled that the Beacon Recreation Center at 23 W. Center St. must be made available for the church’s food pantry, and the city must permit access to the rear of the church so trucks can deliver supplies for the pantry.

Along with its request for an accelerated discovery deadline, St. Andrew alleged that city officials had refused to widen the entrance to the 21 South Ave. lot and that police officers had not been ticketing cars that park in the church’s dedicated on-street spaces on Sunday mornings. The church also said that vehicles entering the 21 South Ave. lot had been “bottoming out.”

“Any good-faith application of this requirement entails not just the posting of ‘no parking signs,’ but actual enforcement by the city,” attorney David Chen wrote in a letter to the judge. “There has been none to date despite multiple instances of non-church vehicles violating the Sunday-morning parking restriction.”

Chen quipped that the city had the staff to count the number of parishioners’ cars in the disputed lot on a Sunday morning, so “is it too much to ask that this same manpower be used to enforce the parties’ agreed-to compromise, especially if this compromise will need to last for the lengthy discovery period requested by the city?”

In a Sept. 12 letter to the judge, City Attorney Robert Zitt said he had spoken to Chen by phone recently, and that the city had agreed to widen the entrance by Sept. 18. City workers had already improved the entrance to the lot to address the bottoming out issue on Aug. 17, he said.

Zitt also defended the city’s proposed discovery timeline. The city will need to conduct numerous interviews, as well as “an extensive and thorough search and review of records” related to the 1987 agreement between the church and fire company, he said.

“In other words, the city’s discovery process is not as simple as peeking into its filing cabinet,” Zitt wrote. He did not address the allegation regarding enforcement of the church’s on-street parking.

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