Local Augusta politics just got interesting.

Latest developments include increased attempts within the City Council, led by Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, to turn her westside neighborhood into a preferential entity. On the heals of recent new regulations on what you can’t do with your property there, Conti has now succeeded by a 5-3 vote to slap a six-month moratorium on existing permitted uses, apparently so she can decide what the historic St. Mark’s church property, now for sale, should be used for. Councilor Anna Blodgett changed her vote, making it possible.

This action could deny the nonprofit, which owns the property, a chance to survive financial ruin, and threatens the further spend-down of an existing endowment.

St. Mark’s, under financial pressure from generally declining church attendance, has partnered with Prince of Peace church, and their parishioners now go there. Meanwhile, the moratorium could scuttle current bidding for the St. Mark’s property because of questions it raises regarding the right to continue permitted uses in that area.

The controversy is further clouded by the fact that the city has expressed interest themselves, through the Augusta Housing Authority, in buying the property.

Councilors Conti and Dale McCormick, along with Mayor David Rollins, are Ward 1 residents and have long been active West Side Neighborhood Association members. This latest action, the St. Mark’s moratorium, accentuates the carving out of a section of Ward 1 for a desired historic district.

But, an attempt to prevent group housing of nine female veterans and their children in the area was just overturned by the Zoning Board of Appeals. The ZBA said it is a “permitted use.” Neighborhood compatibility and historic preservation are worthy goals but must not come, in this case, at the expense of the venerable St. Mark’s church that has given so much to the community. Existing permitted uses should not be changed, and the city should not be allowed to compete with St. Mark’s on the sale of its property.

These were points eloquently made by impressive new at-large Councilor Marci Alexander when she made the case for fair treatment. Fellow at-large Councilor Jeff Bilodeau, who is earning a reputation as the most conservative councilor, quickly saw through all the subterfuge.

Most impressive was extremely liberal Councilor McCormick, who by voting against the moratorium sacrificed political interests and personal comfort in favor of consistency, as she worried out loud about the possibility of denying the needs of some of our less fortunate.

The bottom line here is, existing law and individual protections must not be destroyed in order to serve special interests.

Mayor Rollins had all this under control by sponsoring an upcoming meeting of all parties concerned in order to reach a consensus. Conti (Augusta’s version of Sen. Elizabeth Warren) has instead exacerbated the issue within the community.

Conti seems unable to make a transition from her many years on the Planning Board.

Let Mayor Rollins lead for consensus on how to achieve admirable historic preservation while still protecting individual property owners rights.

ONTO THE ELECTION

Meanwhile, Augusta’s election is shaping up to be very competitive — if everybody with nomination papers files.

With candidate filing deadline looming Tuesday, it appears that there will be a tense race for two at-large council seats. Voters will be selecting from the following choices: widely experienced incumbent McCormick; former Councilor Mark O’Brien; former legislator and combat veteran Corey Wilson; and political unknown James Paulette.

A chance is offered here to establish some urgently needed moderate balance and leadership on the council by electing O’Brien and Wilson.

In Ward 3, Councilor Pat Paradis’ hand-picked choice to succeed himself, Harold “Junior” Elliot, will apparently be challenged by former Ward 1 Councilor Stanley Koski, now living in Ward 3. Perennial candidate Jarody is a third candidate.

The school board, where some current friction exists, will see a contest between dissatisfied at-large incumbent Ed Hastings and Holy Kiidli. Another newcomer, Staci Fortunato, is unopposed in Ward 1.

There will be a three-way contest to succeed Katie Vose in Ward 4 between Kati McCormick, Caitlin Gearheart and outspoken critic Kathleen Mahoney. At least two new school board members are assured.

Augusta, ranked No. 1 in Maine population loss in the last five years at 3.5 percent, needs a spirited political debate about the city’s future.

Don Roberts is a veteran broadcaster, writer and political consultant. He has served Augusta as a city councilor at-large, charter commission vice chairman and utilities district treasurer.