St. John Garabed Armenian church to break ground

After an eight-year long process to obtain city and state permitting, the Armenian community of San Diego will finally break ground on the new St. John Garabed church campus in Carmel Valley.

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held on Sunday, April 29 at 11 a.m. under the auspices of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, and the leadership of St. John Garabed’s parish priest, the Very Rev. Fr. Pakrad Berjekian.

The property is located at 13860 El Camino Real, next to the Harvest Evangelical Formosan Church and close to the entrance to Gonzales Canyon.

“We anticipate a large crowd at the groundbreaking,” said Jim Sahagian, chairman of the St. Garabed building committee. “Armenians throughout Southern California have been following our progress over the past eight years, including the obtaining of regulatory approvals that are enabling this momentous celebration to take place.

“We realize we’ve taken on a major project, but are ready to roll up our sleeves to make this dream a reality.”

When completed, the campus will feature a sanctuary designed to resemble St. Hripsime in Etchmiadzin, Armenia, reaching 93 feet in height to the top of the cross.The campus will also include an “elegant” social hall, a youth center and gymnasium, and an education and cultural building with classrooms and a library. An Armenian Heritage Park will also be on the campus, with picnic and meditation spaces.

The church buildings will be built on 4.2 acres on the already-disturbed mesa top, preserving the site’s most sensitive 9.18 acres.

Since 2008, St. John Garabed has been working to move the church from its overcrowded North Park facility to North County, where a large population of the congregation lives.

Over the years, the project faced challenges due to its proximity to protected lands in the city’s Multiple Species Conservation Program as well as issues of access on a busy stretch of El Camino Real-- the neighboring Harvest Evangelical Formosan Church did not grant access through its property.

All of the wildlife agencies signed off on the project as the church stayed out of the sensitive lands and the Carmel Valley Community Planning board and San Diego Planning Commission gave votes of approval back in 2014.

The church next worked with the Coastal Commission for approval—the commission initially recommended that the church buildings be lowered in height to no greater than 50 feet and reconfigured to ensure that the development was visually compatible with the surrounding natural habitat.

However in 2016, the Coastal Commission approved the project without those conditions, stating that although the development will “clearly be very visually prominent” it will be partially behind the existing Harvest Church and, as conditioned, will have substantial amounts of landscaping to soften the impact of the large buildings.

“We’ve worked hard and overcome a lot of obstacles and now we’re looking forward to realizing the dreams we set out to accomplish. It’s finally happening,” said longtime congregation member Harry Krikorian, who has been involved with the project since they purchased the land in 2009. “It’s been a long, costly and at times exasperating process but in the long run, we know it’s well worth the effort. We expect this church to be there for 100 years or more so that’s the important thing.”

“It is very exciting and a source of enormous pride for the entire community.”

St. John Garabed’s current church property on 30th Street in North Park is in escrow and the close of escrow is slated for June 16.

The parish has 18 months from the close of escrow to vacate the current location, which will coincide with the targeted completion of the first structure at the new site.

For more information, visit stjohngarabed.org.

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