Deteriorating mill becoming costly issue for neighbor

‘It’s a mess and it’s unsafe. It’s a fire hazard. I think at this point it’s sort of a public nuisance.’
Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 10:28 PM EDT
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PENDLETON, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - It’s hard to find a town more picturesque than Pendleton.

Located just minutes from Clemson, the community wraps around a historic town square. When Amy Trick was looking to buy her first home last year, she knew Pendleton was where she wanted to be.

“I love how charming it is. We have an amazing town square,” she said. “In the past few years we’ve gotten so many amenities.”

So when a house hit the market, Trick put in an offer.

It was accepted last August.

“I really love this town and was so excited to close on a house here to sort of set up a permanent home,” Trick said.

But in the year since, her dream has turned into a nightmare. The old Pendleton Oil Mill has continued to deteriorate next door.

“It’s a mess and it’s unsafe. It’s a fire hazard,” Trick said. “I think at this point it’s sort of a public nuisance. "

What was once a major economic driver in the community is now a half-demolished pile of rubble.

But for Trick, it’s not just an eye sore. Her home insurance carrier decided it’s too big of a liability.

“They determined that the adjacent property to mine, that being the mill, made my home too high of a risk to insure so in October of this year I’m being dropped by my current insurer,” Trick said.

When the first-time homeowner was looking at buying the house, the mill was about to be demolished.

Crews started in October 2021, but didn’t finish.

Town administrator Steve Miller said they’ve spent the last seven years trying to clear the property. The county even came close to auctioning it off for delinquent taxes twice, but each time owner John Sitton made the payment just before the bidding.

Miller said they haven’t had the funds to go after the owners in court until now. They’ve set aside $50,000 for legal fees in this year’s budget.

“Our attorney is talking to their attorney every other week at least at this point,” Miller said.

Sitton has talked with the town in the past. We found articles from 2016 showing him speaking with the council, attempting to work through the cleanup.

Now, though, he faces almost half a dozen charges for failing to clean his land, according to Anderson County court records.

“Are we going to keep going down the enforcement action or is there a way we can partner with them to speed things up? Nobody wants to be in a lose-lose situation on this,” Miller said. “At some point it’s going to have to be dealt with.”

But still, Miller said it could be years before legal matters are resolved. If the responsibility of cleaning up falls on the town, money could be an issue again. Miller said estimates start at $400,000.

“The easiest way to remedy it is for them to clean the property up,” Miller said.

David Brousseau, the attorney for the Sitton family, said talks have picked up over the last several months. He told FOX Carolina they’ve made significant progress in working toward a deal that the people of Pendleton will be happy with.

Brousseau said he and his clients fully understand people are frustrated. While he did provide a timeline on when a deal would be finalized, he said they hope to have one as soon as possible.

For Trick, time is running out.

Her insurance policy runs out Oct. 7 and quotes for a new one are almost $400 more than she was paying.

“I may have to leap frog from insurer to insurer every year because if another insurer comes out, sees this kind of hazard I’m living next to, they can choose not to re-up my policy again,” Trick said. “I would just love somebody to come in and help.”