SOUTH PORTLAND – Willard Square is an anachronism in a world of big box stores and lifestyle shopping centers.

A small collection of stores, clustered around an intersection. Parking out front. An easy walk for nearby residents down wide, shaded sidewalks.

To Katalin Theunissen, it’s perfect the way it is, with a bakery, a small market and an ice cream shop.

“Why do we destroy history?” she said, her voice heavily accented from growing up in Yugoslavia. “You should keep the little area the way it is.”

As she spoke, Glenn Perry was getting ready to cut the grass in front of the apartment building he recently bought on the square. Perry’s plans for his lot on Pillsbury Street are what Theunissen is worried about.

Perry and business partner Ian Hayward want to build a store selling fruit, vegetables, soups, sandwiches, meats and prepared foods. Originally, it was going to be named “Mr. Delicious,” but the name was changed to “Ebo’s Market” after some neighbors said they didn’t like the original moniker.

“In our naivete, we thought that people would welcome us with open arms,” Perry said. “We couldn’t have been more wrong.”

Perry and Hayward said they felt they’ve done a lot to address neighborhood concerns, many of which they say they don’t understand in the first place.

But residents in the area are asking the City Council to impose a moratorium on new development in Willard Square. The measure is scheduled for a first reading at tonight’s council meeting, with a second reading and public hearing next month.

Perry said the two planned to meet with the Willard Square Neighborhood Association in March, but then the organization canceled the session. They’ve spent $40,000 so far on a process they thought would cost no more than $25,000. They’ve held 24 hours of meetings with city officials.

“We had initial meetings. We had prior-to-submission meetings,” Perry said, and city officials told them they were following the process to a T.

But residents say they’re worried about traffic, parking and the fact that the store will go in a narrow slot between Perry’s apartment building and his neighbors, although Perry said there’s no setback required and he’s allowing 3 feet.

“I think it could be a little too much” for the square, said Jac Ouellette, noting that parking has already gotten a bit tighter since Bathra’s Market opened up on the square after being closed for 22 years.

She said traffic is also a concern, especially when children are walking to and from school, Southern Maine Community College students are cutting through on their way to the nearby campus and delivery trucks are arriving.

“We had no idea it could get this congested here,” she said. “It’s congested enough. How much more can we take?”

Perry said the neighbors are making too much of what he sees as a small addition to the square. “This is not Manhattan, folks,” he said.

The business partners said the neighborhood opposition has put them in the position of having to push ahead rather than continuing to try to compromise with people who clearly don’t want them.

“It’s become us versus them, and that’s most unfortunate,” Hayward said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]