Sandy City’s attempt to shutdown Kuwahara’s produce business sparks emotional response at packed city council meeting

Alex Kurwahara, owner of Kuwahara's Wholesale farmers market and plant nursery makes an emotional plea to Sandy City council members to allow his operation to open for business despite alleged violations of a variety of zoning and business ordinances. Photo: Sandy City Council

SANDY, Utah, Feb. 18, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — The owner of a Sandy City retail plant nursery and farmer’s market must complete nearly a million dollars of improvements or the city won’t allow him to open his family business this year.

Owner Alex Kuwahara, of Kuwahara Wholesale, at 8565 S. State St., tearfully pleaded with the Sandy City Council to let him open next month or his family will lose everything.

Sandy City zoning officials say they have been fighting against what one official called an illegal business operation since 2013. While officials admitted that none of the violations are life-threatening, and that the nursery has made many required improvements, the violations are ongoing.

In a letter to Alex Kuwahara last October, Sandy administrators said the business must discontinue, or “Sandy City intends to pursue criminal, civil and/or administrative enforcement pursuant to the Sandy City Municipal Code.”

Dozens of supporters of Alex Kuwahara pack the Sandy City Council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2020. Photo: Gephardt Daily/Bill Gephardt

The Sandy City fire marshal also says he found non-life-threatening violations such as improper installation of fire extinguishers with inspection tags, and lack of signs indicating where the fire extinguishers can be found; rubbish, dry vegetation, and wooden skids in the business; not enough exit signs; L.P. gas containers in the sun; no business license; no proper turn-around in the driveway for fire equipment; awnings and overhangs that are too large to have without a special permit.

But the fire marshal also told the city council the owner has worked to comply with many of the deficiencies.

Owner Alex Kuwahara says he is perfectly willing to work in an ongoing compromise with Sandy City, but he is simply unable to come up with the million dollars in improvements immediately, let alone have them all completed in the next few weeks.

“I’m only asking for help,” a tearful Alex Kuwahara pleaded to the Sandy City Council.

The business has been open for nearly a decade and employs about 25 people.

“When we first opened, we were smaller. Then as more customers came, we grew bigger. And now more stuff is required than before. We have submitted many site plans,” he said, “but there are always more things that are required.”

Kuwahara says among the things required are curbs and gutters on State Street, and an 8-foot concrete fence surrounding his 2-acre property.

Kuwahara spoke to an overflow capacity crowd of his customers before the Sandy City Council. He came armed with thousands of signatures on a petition to “Save Kuwahara’s.”

During the council’s time for members of the public to speak, it took nearly three hours to get through the customers who spoke passionately about keeping the company in business.

Some spoke about overbearing government regulations. Some spoke about unequal enforcement, noting nearby businesses have similar violations, but are not being forced to comply immediately or close.

Kuwahara says he has spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to comply with the regulations, and he says he is willing to spend more than that in coming years to comply. But he says he needs a compromise. He says he simply can’t come up with a million dollars right now to comply.

Sandy City Council has heard from their zoning and fire officials, and they’ve
heard from the Kuwahara owners and customers. Now they will consider what to do.

There is no announced timetable. Alex Kuwahara says a decision needs to be
made quickly, because if he is not growing and selling by the first couple weeks of
March, his family will lose the business.

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