Zoning dispute in Windham Township ended in a resignation and a surprising appointment

Windham Township Hall. Ben Wolford/The Portager

Longtime Windham Township Zoning Inspector Joe Pinti resigned this summer in protest against the board of trustees over a permitting question, and trustees appointed the man behind his resignation as his replacement.

At issue were township residents Adam and Alvin Sweet’s requests that Pinti approve a zoning certificate for an accessory building on Adam Sweet and Monique Wildman’s vacant 11.66-acre lot at 10114 State Route 82.

Pinti refused, but he said trustees pressured him to issue the permit, so he resigned on June 15. (Trustees deny there was any pressure.) 

Trustees then quickly appointed Alvin Sweet, Adam’s father, to replace him a few weeks later. Sweet subsequently issued his son the permit.

“The irony is the trustees gave the zoning inspector position to the resident who wanted me to look the other way,” Pinti said.

Alvin Sweet declined to comment for this article.

Pinti said his objection is based on Windham’s zoning code, which states that accessory buildings are permitted “in association with a principal building.”

Since the principal building did not exist, an accessory building couldn’t either, Pinti reasoned.

“One supersedes the other one. You have to have a primary residence on the property to have an accessory building,” Pinti said.

Township trustees said there was an imminent contract for a primary residence, so an accessory building was justified.

Alvin Sweet escalated the matter to Portage County Building Director Joe Bodnar, who on June 7 emailed the elder Sweet that Pinti could issue the permit. 

However, Pinti said he then reviewed the matter with Bodnar and secured a final opinion that issuing the permit would indeed be against township regulations, Pinti said. Pinti ultimately determined not to provide Adam Sweet with the permit.

Township Trustee Rich Gano doesn’t see any problem with appointing Sweet as Pinti’s successor.

“We needed one and [Alvin Sweet] was the only applicant,” he said, noting that Adam now has his zoning certificate. “Ethically, I don’t know. There’s nothing that says he couldn’t write his son’s permit. There’s nothing that says you can’t write your own permit.”

Gano said all three trustees discussed the Sweets’ request and felt there was no reason to deny it because there was an imminent contract for a home to be built on the property.

Gano said Pinti agreed to rethink his refusal, but then simply resigned. 

Pinti said he never rethought anything, and during two conversations told Gano and Trustee Brian Miller that the matter was not debatable. Miller did not respond to a request for comment.

According to Pinti, the pressure continued. According to Gano, it didn’t.

“We never ordered him to do anything,” Gano said. “I’m a zoning inspector for two townships and I know the rules better than anyone, probably. He could have denied it, and said no, and we would have respected his decision.”

Had there not been an immediate contract for a home, the trustees would not have urged Pinti to cooperate, he said.

Though he resigned June 15, and Sweet was appointed July 6, Pinti said he waited until August to contact The Portager because comments from township residents seemed to indicate incorrect information was being circulated as to why he resigned. Pinti declined to say who the residents are or what their comments were.

“I felt it was time for me to leave as soon as I was asked to do something that was outside the resolutions,” Pinti said. “I have said no to other residents in Windham Township, that you cannot build an accessory building first and then build your residential structure.”

Pinti said his biggest concern is the apparent conflict of interest in appointing the person whose permit he denied to fill his position.

“I just thought it was kind of peculiar to hire the guy who wanted to go against the resolutions to begin with, but that’s only my opinion,” he said. “They’re their own entity. They can do what they want to do.”

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.