The historic Alex R. Thomas pear-packing plant, which provided generations of Ukiah youth with summer jobs until bankruptcy forced its closure three years ago, is slated to reopen as a composting and trash sorting facility.
"Its a perfect location," said Julie Price, a representative for Pacific Recycling Solutions, which has a tentative agreement to buy the south Ukiah facility from Savings Bank of Mendocino County.
The company, part of C&S Waste Solutions, already owns the garbage transfer station on Taylor Drive just north of the former pear sheds. The Ukiah sewer treatment plant and the county animal shelter are located nearby.
Mendocino County Farm Bureau Manager Devon Jones said it would have been nice if the property had remained in agricultural use. "But the Farm Bureau respects the use of industrial zoning as long as the new use is compatible with adjoining agricultural uses," she said.
The Mendocino County Planning Commission last week approved the bank's request to rezone the former Thomas property to allow the new uses. The decision requires additional approval by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors.
Financial terms of the sale were not disclosed. When the property went to foreclosure auction in 2009, the minimum bid was $3 million. There were no bids made on the property at that time.
The Alex R. Thomas Co. owed the bank $4.9 million on the 15-acre property, which includes about 170,000 square feet of building space. The property's five industrial buildings include a modern cold storage facility.
The proposed green waste composting facility would be housed inside a former pear sorting building, Price said. It would generate an estimated 250 cubic yards of compost per week on average.
Pacific Recycling's proposal also includes a pilot food composting program for restaurants, which would be fully contained and have an odor control system, she said. The recycling facility is expected to generate about 75 truck trips daily, considerably less than the 200 truck trips generated daily by the pear sheds, according to documents submitted to the county.
If the project moves forward as planned, the company will be able to consolidate most of its operations at the new site. The company's garbage transfer station would remain at its current location, Price said.
The Alex R. Thomas Co. had a long history in the Ukiah Valley. Founded in 1919, the facility was a prominent fixture in the North Coast pear industry and the Ukiah Valley. Up to 700 people were employed in the packing sheds during harvest in its heyday.
But the company in recent years fell on hard times. Its assets were split by family members and the property was highly leveraged by the time it collapsed.
Many of the Thomas family's former pear orchards also have been sold and their trees removed.