Atlanta Precision Molding Co. Ltd.'s $24 million California project is temporarily on hold. The company is waiting for the go-ahead from El Dorado County to begin building a 65,000-square-foot plant on a 30-acre site in El Dorado Hills, near Placerville. The plant, to be called California Precision Molding, will injection mold polystyrene jewel boxes for West Coast compact-disc manufacturers, such as Sony Corp. of America. But a zoning complaint lodged by a local landowner against APM's developer, Mansour Co. of Los Angeles, has kept the firm from advancing its plans.
With $250,000 tied up in the project already, APM remains optimistic, said David Stumpff, APM's vice president of marketing and advanced product planning.
``California Precision Molding is a go,'' Stumpff said in a March 27 telephone interview from APM's Duluth, Ga., headquarters. ``It's a done deal. If by April 27 we don't start pouring concrete, we will look at other options.''
Among those options are several other sites in the area, he said. Production originally was set for August.
Peter Maurer, principal planner for El Dorado County, said the county's planning board had prioritized the project to meet APM's schedule.
There's been ``quite a bit of interest in the county concerning this project because of the needs of APM to get construction going this year,'' Maurer said March 24.
At issue are zoning laws that govern the 130-acre industrial park, owned by Mansour, on which APM hopes to build. The company's plant and 30-acre plot are not the problem, according to Clark Cameron, who has filed the complaint.
``This plant is not offensive to anybody. It offers a good tax base and maybe some jobs for the community,'' he said.
The disputed tract is zoned for general commercial use, which includes ``light-industrial'' facilities, Maurer said. Stumpff said APM's jewel-box manufacturing qualifies as light industrial. But Maurer said there are ambiguities in the county's codes as to whether APM's proposed plastics manufacturing is a permitted use within the commercially zoned land.
Image is important to the firm, Stumpff said, citing its 250,000-square-foot Duluth plant as proof. ``From the outside, it looks like an office park,'' he said. The company doesn't want to be next door to a big manufacturing complex, preferring a setting that ``looks like a golf course.''
Now the issue is being re-evaluated with regard to the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires the county to determine the environmental impacts on the land. That means more waiting for APM.
``We've been going round for three months,'' Stumpff said.
Until the county approves Mansour's development plans for all 130 acres, APM won't get the green light to begin construction.
``He's got a pocketful of our money,'' Stumpff said. ``But we can't move any further until the zoning is cleared up.''
The county planning board is reviewing issues such as grading and drainage activities and traffic circulation for proposed land development, Maurer said. The company must also wait for a 30-day public hearing process during which the community can respond to the developer's plans.
Maurer called the public hearing process a vulnerable period in project approval, offering ``a big window for opponents of the project to attack it.''
``Even though California is encouraging industry to come, [the political climate] is still not easy,'' Stumpff said.
The firm wanted to have production up and running by August to meet its contractual obligations to Sony, which is building a plant in Springfield, Ore. That plant will start making compact discs in May, Stumpff said. Despite its setbacks, APM intends to be doing business as California Precision Molding by May, setting up sales, customer service and warehousing in the region to serve its West Coast jewel-box customers, which include Warner Bros. Inc., 3M Co. and Technicolor Inc.
Meanwhile, the company is gearing up at Duluth to meet that increased demand and, by August, will have capacity to produce 600 million jewel boxes a year, he said. Presses, ``just shy of 100,'' will number 115-120 by then, he said. The Duluth plant employs about 96.
Meanwhile, a plant previously planned for Virginia has been scrapped, for economic reasons, Stumpff said. But a plant in the Northeast - ``somewhere near Boston'' - is still possible in the long term.
``We have too many irons in the fire right now,'' he said.
Besides jewel boxes, APM makes cases for minidiscs. Stumpff said the company also has its eye on the new digital video discs, which will come into the marketplace next year.
In Helmund, Netherlands, APM operates a jewel-box plant, which is boosting capacity to 200 million this year.
APM is owned by Mitsubishi Corp. and Sumitomo Heavy Industries Ltd., both of Tokyo.