AUGUSTA — City councilors on Thursday approved a moratorium banning any new group, boarding or rooming homes in two of the city’s major zoning districts for up to 180 days, a move spurred by west side residents who are anxious about the future use of the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church property, which is currently for sale.

Some council members are concerned that the property could end up in the hands of an organization that might use some of the property as a homeless shelter.

Mayor David Rollins said neighborhood residents have expressed fear that the property could be used by a new owner in a way that is not compatible with their neighborhood. But St. Mark’s officials said they are concerned the city’s actions could interfere with their efforts to sell the property.

Rollins said it’s time for all sides to talk about appropriate future uses at the site.

“We’ve heard general speculation and angst from people who live in the neighborhood who fear incompatible uses,” he said. “That is legitimate. And I think your (church) concerns are legitimate. There is consensus here somewhere. But discussing it on Facebook or talking about it at the coffee shop isn’t going to get us there. I look forward to getting together with you, because this is a big deal.”

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, Rollins, and Stephen Langsdorf, city attorney, said the moratorium wasn’t written to prevent a boarding, group, or rooming home from being located on the St. Mark’s site and is simply meant to give city officials time to clarify vague zoning ordinance definitions.

CHURCH OWNERS CONCERNED

Following nearly two hours of debate, councilors voted 5-3 late Thursday to enact a moratorium of up to 180 days, banning the issuance of all permits or Planning Board review of any proposed new group, boarding, or rooming homes in the city’s Business, Professional, and Institutional, and Medium Density Residential zoning districts.

St. Mark’s officials said the moratorium will interfere with the church’s efforts to get rid of the property, which they said costs up to $4,500 a month to maintain. They also expressed concerns that the city, following the proposed 180-day moratorium, could enact zoning rules that would limit the uses of the property to those that only one potential bidder on the property, the quasi-municipal Augusta Housing Authority, would propose.

While some city councilors said Thursday that was the first they’d heard of an Augusta Housing Authority proposal for the property, Rollins has previously acknowledged he has talked with Amanda Bartlett, executive director of the housing authority, about the housing authority’s interest in the property. He said in a July 15 telephone interview he thought the Augusta Housing Authority proposal was “a win-win proposal” and “to me, the proposal from Augusta Housing for St. Mark’s Home and the rest of the site would be the best combination of re-use for the philosophy of the church and compatibility of the city and neighborhood.”

Bartlett has confirmed that the Augusta Housing Authority made a proposal for the site before the church issued a formal request for proposals for the property. The proposal involved the creation of affordable senior housing.

“There is in fact a proposal from Augusta Housing Authority. I’ve read the proposal,” the Rev. Rebecca Grant, deacon of St. Mark’s, told city councilors Thursday. “The last thing we’d want is to find this council in a sideways position, knowing the Augusta Housing Authority has already expressed an interest and in fact has laid out a plan.”

The Rev. Erik Karas, the priest in charge at St. Mark’s, said the ordinance seems partly aimed at St. Mark’s and its religious and charitable community purposes and is an attempt to interfere in the process of finding a new owner for the property.