By Mike Allen
November 15, 2023 (Santee) -- A small congregation of Ukrainian American Catholics will make Santee their new home, once the church they have long planned is built in about a year.
The parish, St. John the Baptizer, which now holds its services in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, purchased a lot at Carlton Oaks Drive and Pike Street in 2018.
On Nov. 8 the Santee City Council unanimously approved an application for a conditional use permit for the gold-domed church and connecting meeting hall to the applicants, technically a part of the Ukrainian Church of Chicago.
While the 0.6 acre lot is zoned neighborhood commercial and allows for a church, a conditional use permit is needed due to the building’s use.
In St. John’s case, the issue that prompted the most concern from the Council members was parking. The plan calls for a church with 76 seats and only 19 parking spaces. Assuming not everyone is car sharing or taking Ubers, it didn’t seem as if that would suffice.
Vice Mayor Laura Koval said she hoped overflow vehicles wouldn’t park at the Carlton Oaks Plaza Shopping Center across the street, where spaces are already at a premium.
Keith Kroeger, the owner of the center, in a letter to the Council, said because many of the center’s tenants, including the library, a dance studio and martial arts studio, have their busiest hours on the weekend, the lot is usually filled, with some cars even parking on unmarked and red painted areas.
“I believe this church would make parking worse and prevent parents and children from the community the opportunity to patronize the Santee public library,” Kroeger wrote, asking the council to deny the permit.
Luke Miller, whose great grandparents were part of the original congregation and emigrated to this country in 1912, said the parish’s intention is to be good neighbors, and that the church would hold services only on Sundays for about three hours. He said the typical number of congregants was about 50.
Catherine George, a consultant to the church, said the project meets all the city’s codes, including parking and height limitations. And unlike some non-denominational churches, St. John’s is meant to be a small, contained neighborhood church.
“They do not have lavish or large events typical of Western weddings and the like,” George said. Instead the focus is on small religious services, which doesn’t include musical instruments, only a capella singing.
She said the social hall is intended for light snacks for members, and isn’t for rent to the public. George said the parish has spent “more than a half million (dollars) so far with more than a million more to prepare the land, and build the church and hall.”
Councilman Ronn Hall said the parking plan made him nervous since the 19 spaces seemed too few. He urged the church leaders to work out a
deal with the Santee School District which operates Carlton Hills Elementary School across Pike Street, but is not in session on Sundays.
Miller agreed that he would do so, prompting Hall to make a motion to approve the permit, which was later approved by the five-member board.
But before the vote, Mayor John Minto, stated, “Unlike everybody else, I don’t think we need any more churches.” Then he paused and said, “Just kidding.”
Photo, right: Ukrainian-Americans held a candlelight vigil at the site of their planned church ib Santee, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
For Ukrainian-Americans in Santee, whose homeland is war-torn since the Russian invasion began, construction of a church here symbolizes establishing roots in their new home in San Diego's East County.