Resident Robert Pingitore has filed a claim of harassment against the town of Johnston and Councilman Ernest Pitochelli, informing the town that he intends to file suit.
In a letter to Mayor Joseph Polisena, Pingitore said the suit is for “continual harassment” by Councilman Pitochelli.
“I have had no complaints from any of my neighbors concerning the construction at 87 Morgan Avenue. Councilman Pitochelli has filed complaints with the building inspector’s office and the zoning enforcement officer that are without merit. Because Councilman Pitochelli is a town official, the lawsuit will also name the town of Johnston,” Pingitore wrote.
Pitochelli says he disagrees with his constituent’s assessment of his actions. At Tuesday’s council meeting, Pitochelli requested a meeting with Town Solicitor Billy Conley to explain his side of the story.
“I plead not guilty. I don’t harass; I question,” he said.
According to meeting minutes of the Zoning Board of Review for March 25, 2010, Pingitore petitioned the town to construct a single-family dwelling on Morgan Avenue with a detached garage and an 85-foot wind turbine. In order to move forward with his plans, Pingitore was requesting a 60-foot variance on the allowed height of the wind turbine and variances on the setback.
The March 2010 meeting minutes also report that Pitochelli attended the session and aired his feelings on the project, claiming that he had received numerous phone calls from concerned neighbors. He requested that the board delay their decision until more information was available, but to no avail. However, the Zoning Board approved Pingitore’s request for variances at that time.
Pingitore could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Pitochelli said he has had no physical or verbal contact with the complainant.
“The only time I even came close to Mr. Pingitore was at the coffee shop. He didn’t speak to me and I didn’t speak to him,” he said.
Pitochelli says his questions on the Morgan Avenue property have to do with the detached garage. The plans called for a three-car garage, but he says the structure at the bottom of the property’s hill has one door.
“I don’t have a problem with his development; I have a problem with his detached garage,” Pitochelli said, adding that he is just doing the bidding of his constituents. “Not that I have a problem – we have a problem – those people who approached me as their councilman.”
The councilman admits that he did contact the Building Department about the structure and wanted to see any paperwork that indicates an approved change in the garage plans.
“Did he return and did they change the plans? That was my question; that’s a legitimate question,” he said. “If they did, then I have no quarrel.”
Solicitor Conley received the notice of claim on July 10 and notified the Town Council of the issue at their meeting this Tuesday at Municipal Court. The claim does not yet constitute a lawsuit. No dollar amount has yet been attached to the claim, but Conley said the notice has been forwarded to the town’s insurance provider.
“The typical process is that these liability claims are referred to our insurance carrier. The insurance carrier will evaluate the coverage issues…and determine whether or not the allegations are covered by our insurance,” Conley said.
Pingitore said in his letter that he is disappointed that the situation has escalated to this point.
“I have been a resident and taxpayer in the town of Johnston for 44 years and I regret that I am compelled to take this action,” he said in his letter.
According to a report by ecoRI in April of this year, this is not Pingitore’s first energy-saving project. The source reported that Pingitore installed a 44-foot-high turbine at a property in 2008 and had reduced his electric bill by 40 percent as a result. He was speaking in favor of renewable energy initiatives at an April hearing at the State House. How the claim will proceed from here remains to be seen.
“We wait to hear back from the insurance carrier on the coverage issue,” Conley said.