Creative solution paves way for Kuwahara Farms survivalFeb 24, 2021 01:56PM ● By Justin Adams
Alex Kuwahara, owner of Kuwahara Farms Wholesale, is happy to know that his business finally has a path toward compliance with Sandy City code requirements. (Justin Adams/City Journals File Photo)
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
One year after a much-loved community farmers market was nearly forced to close because of a failure to comply with city codes, the Sandy City Council appears to have found a solution.
Kuwahara Farms Wholesale (8565 State St.) was told by the city that they wouldn’t be allowed to open for the 2020 season because they weren’t complying with various city codes and ordinances. Only after a tension-filled city council meeting, in which the community turned out in droves to voice their support for Kuwahara, did the city reverse course.
While the city agreed to “look the other way” for a season, the underlying problem is: what to do with a valuable community asset whose unique characteristics make it almost impossible to comply with city code?
The problem facing Kuwahara Farms is that its location contains multiple uses that couldn’t all fit under one city zone. A zoning designation determines what kind of uses are permitted for a certain piece of land. Land zoned for residential can only be used to build residential buildings, for example.
As a family farm property dating back generations, Kuwahara contains residential, commercial and agricultural features, making it difficult to zone properly. So what could the city do? Create a new zone tailored to the unique needs of Kuwahara Farms.
“They didn’t fit in any box in the city so we created a new box,” explained Councilwoman Brooke Christensen who represents the district where Kuwahara Farms is located. For the past year, she has led discussions between the city and Kuwahara. (Previous city councilmembers and city staff have been working on the issue for years.)
“I loved that I could sit down with them and the city and hash out a middle ground,” she said. “They’re such a gem in our community. To have a farmers market and nursery that’s been in their family for 70-plus years, to keep them there is a huge win for the neighborhood. It’s a perfect fit for the historic district.”
The new zone will allow Kuwahara Farms to maintain a permanent plant nursery, keep a residential building as a “caretaker’s residence,” and to sell their produce on site for 180 continuous days each year.
The zone would also exempt Kuwahara Farms from certain features normally required by businesses, such as bathrooms or parking requirements.
After a unanimous approval from the city council, the process continues with the city’s planning commission. They’ll have the chance to make changes and then send it back to the city council for final approval. After that, Kuwahara Farms would still have to apply for a rezone.
While it may take several months to go through that process, owner Alex Kuwahara is happy just to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s been so hard for everyone involved. That hardness is a learning lesson,” he told the city council. “Now it’s starting to feel a lot easier and I think we’ve all grown and become better people...Thank you so much for all your help.”
“This is what community government is all about: having a big complicated problem and people coming together with a common purpose to save a legacy business, the historic component of our community,” said Councilwoman Monica Zoltanski, who was also involved in developing the solution over the course of the last year.
“I think that’s what the city should be doing,” Christensen said. “We should be creating more solutions for unique small businesses in our city. I think the one size fits all isn’t—it doesn’t work. When we have unique circumstances where we can actually help out—I think that’s what local government is all about—making a difference for residents.”