Fire station sparked conflict over parking lot

St. Andrew & St. Luke Episcopal Church in Beacon has asked a Dutchess County judge to issue a summary judgment, which would decide the dispute over a parking lot between the church and the city without a trial or hearing from witnesses. Beacon city attorneys have until April 8 to respond. 

The request, made Feb. 17, is the latest development since the church filed suit against the city nine months ago for fencing off a city-owned lot adjacent to the centralized Beacon fire station, which is under construction. 

The Beacon fire station will be completed this fall. The disputed parking lot is to the right of the station. Photo by J. Simms
The Beacon fire station will be completed this fall. The disputed parking lot is to the right of the station. (Photo by J. Simms)

At the heart of the issue is a 1987 agreement establishing shared access to the gravel lot for the church and the volunteer Lewis Tompkins Hose Co., which was in the process of acquiring the property from the city then. Three decades later, in 2020, the city purchased the lot from the fire company and opened it for public parking, drawing the ire of the church. 

While the parties disagreed about access, they coexisted until last summer, when the city fenced off the lot to store construction equipment and building materials as demolition began on the fire station. St. Andrew & St. Luke filed a lawsuit June 26, saying its parishioners had been parking in the lot for more than 30 years. The suit asked Judge Thomas Davis to force the city to remove the fence and restore the lot to its “original and intended condition.”

The city countered, saying the 1987 agreement was invalid and that it could not halt construction on the $14.7 million fire station, which is expected to be completed this fall. Instead, the city leased adjacent land to create a temporary, 22-space lot for churchgoers, along with on-street spaces on South Avenue and in the City Hall lot. Signs indicate that both are reserved on Sunday mornings.

In July, Davis ordered St. Andrew & St. Luke to accept the temporary accommodations. 

In a memorandum church attorneys filed in support of the request for summary judgment, they argued that the 1987 agreement “speaks of a parking lot shared by two private entities — the church and an independent, volunteer firefighter company,” and declares that both “shall have equal rights” to use the lot. 

The church says that the agreement never mentions a “public use” parking lot, and when the city purchased the lot from the fire company, “it did so with all of the title’s duly recorded encumbrances, including the 1987 agreement.” In his request, attorney David Chen asked Davis to issue a judgment affirming the parties’ respective rights to the lot, “and permanently enjoin the city from interfering with the church’s rights.” 

Referring to a 2006 lawsuit in which the church sued the Tompkins Hose Co. over access to the same lot, and another disagreement in 2017, Chen wrote that “this is the third time the church has been prevented from using the parking lot in violation of the agreement, and it must be the last.”

In previous filings, Beacon city attorneys have disputed St. Andrew & St. Luke’s rights under the 1987 agreement. Last year, city attorney Robert Zitt wrote that the church’s demand to restore the lot to its original condition while construction is ongoing was “made against all equitable conscience” and, if granted, “would prove disastrous for the City of Beacon.”

Zitt also wrote that the 1987 agreement “is just that, an agreement to agree.” He said that in 1987, the church and fire company were both represented by lawyers and “could have provided for an easement” delineating both parties’ rights. 

Zitt has argued that the church’s allegation of “irreparable harm” caused by the city is “absolutely preposterous.” Because the city has provided alternative parking and other concessions, the church has made “conclusory allegations” without evidence, he wrote. 

If the city opposes the church’s request, St. Andrew & St. Luke can submit a reply. From there, Davis would make a decision. If he grants the church’s request, he will decide the case. If he does not, the sides would complete discovery and Beacon could file its own motion for summary judgment (the church cannot do that again) or allow the case to proceed to trial. 

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Simms has covered Beacon for The Current since 2015. He studied journalism at Appalachian State University and has reported for newspapers in North Carolina and Maryland. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Beacon politics

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1 Comment

  1. It’s incredible how much money this nonprofit religious organization, St. Andrew & St. Luke Episcopal Church, has forced the city to waste on lawyers. Even further, taxpayer funds are being wasted to appease the church by building extra space, repainting, redirecting and re-signing the side streets.

    All of this is despite the fact that the legal claim by the church to the parking lot is spurious, at best. It could have bought the lot years ago, and the deeds on the property seem clear and valid in Beacon’s favor. The lawsuit may slow down the construction of the fire station, which on top of wasting taxpayer funds potentially makes all of us less safe.

    As an Episcopalian, I find it shameful the local church and Episcopal Diocese of New York continue to selfishly pursue this course of action. Not only should this suit be dismissed, but the diocese should be forced to pay the city’s legal fees. [via Instagram]

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