Chester County cracks down on pillaged mills

CHESTER -- If someone wants to start tearing down an old mill in Chester County, that person must finish the job, county leaders said this week.

On Monday night, the County Council took its first vote on requiring people seeking to destroy a large structure to agree to clean up the site when they're finished before a demolition permit is issued.

"Enough's enough," County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey said of the county's large properties, particularly mill sites, that are often pillaged for materials and left to rot.

Some people request demolition permits to harvest items such as bricks and wooden beams to use in restoring old homes. The new ordinance would require people who receive a demolition permit to either clean up the mess they make or pay up.

"That's what it's all about," Roddey said. "Stop getting all the good stuff out and walking off and leaving all the junk."

The most frequent excuse Roddey said he hears about these projects is that those doing the demolishing can't afford to finish the job.

"You can't make them do it," said County Councilman Alex Oliphant. "You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip."

But that will change if the council passes the ordinance, which could come as early as next month. When asked what spurred the council to action, Oliphant was frank: "What prompted it is I'm (ticked) off," he said. "We're all sick of it, and we should have done something years ago. ... I've had it, and I'm in raise-hell mode."

One particular project that's a sore spot for the county is the old Gayle Mill property near Chester. The mill sat empty for years after it was closed by Springs Industries in 1976. The property was sold twice and was left in ruins by new owners.

The county took ownership of much of the property with the goal of cleaning it up. But that took more than 20 years to land grants for removing the blight.

"We thought we were going to be the good Samaritans, and we took it over," said County Councilman Archie Lucas. "And that was a tragic mistake."

Like Oliphant and Roddey, Lucas supports the move to require the clean-up agreements.

"I agree with it 100 percent," he said.

Another proponent is Gary Mahaffey, the 72-year-old Inman man who purchased the 113-year-old Eureka Plant on Saluda Road in 2005.

When he bought the site, Mahaffey hoped to renovate the old 320,000-square-foot former textile weaving plant and tore down some of the most dilapidated parts of the complex. His company, Spartan Fiber, planned to use the former textile plant for yarn storage and distribution.

Part of the place is being used, including office space leased by a free health clinic.

Not one to pillage and leave, Mahaffey said the clean-up effort has been delayed by legal developments, but his goal is to have a good-looking piece of commercial property.

"I'm not doing what their doing," he said of the pillagers. "I'm there trying to make a useful ... warehouse, business for it."