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Branches Garden Center scrambles to satisfy Federal Way fire code
Branches Garden Center may close if the business cannot satisfy Federal Way city code.
The garden center, located at South 320th Street and Military Road, received an order to cease activity last week after it was determined that the plastic greenhouse roofing did not comply with fire safety standards.
Branches owners Stephen and Sharon Jensen appealed the order and will face a hearing examiner April 18 at City Hall. If the hearing examiner upholds the city’s order, Branches cannot continue to operate as a retail business, but would be able to operate as a wholesale business. The difference is that the public cannot enter the area where the plastic sheeting covers the roof.
“When you go from wholesale business to retail in serving the public, there are a different set of requirements,” said city spokesman Chris Carrel.
Stephen and Sharon Jensen have operated Branches for about four years. Their intention is to cooperate with the city as much as possible to find a practical and realistic solution.
“The frustrating part for me is that I know there are hundreds of other greenhouses in the state of Washington, let alone the U.S., that have the same covering as I do,” Stephen Jensen said. “I am committed to do everything I can to find something that works because I have my life invested in this at this point.”
Greenhouse roofing that meets fire-resistant standards, Jensen said, is costly and requires frequent replacement or repairs. He added that his current setup — which he calls “poly” (short for polyethylene) — allows the most light and best conditions for plants to grow and survive.
In addition, the Jensens want to avoid any action that requires a building permit, which could further complicate code compliance issues and lead to more expenses, he said.
The city’s code enforcement operates on a complaint-based system. Federal Way is required by law to investigate each code complaint. In this case, Branches is violating the NFPA 701 (National Fire Protection Association) fire prevention code.
The issue was first addressed in April 2009, when South King Fire and Rescue notified the city regarding fire safety code violations in Branches’ greenhouse roofing. Other building code violations at Branches, including the facility’s electrical wiring, have since been addressed. The greenhouse roofing is the last remaining obstacle for Branches to be in full compliance with city building codes as a retail business, Carrel said.
Open for nearly 18 years, the garden center sells an array of flowers, plants, trees, gifts and more. Branches was located in unincorporated King County until January 2005, when Federal Way officially annexed the land. The city rezoned the site in February 2010, Carrel said, to allow for the retail garden center to meet zoning standards.
Over the years, Branches has established a loyal customer base, and has earned multiple “best nursery and garden center” honors in The Mirror’s annual Best of Federal Way contest.