The South Portland City Council has given preliminary approval to a three-month moratorium on development in the Willard Square neighborhood, and has asked city planners to speed up the creation of design standards there.

The council passed the first reading on the issue Monday night.

A public hearing will be held before the Planning Board on Tuesday, and then the matter will go back to the council for a second and final vote June 6.

“Planning is going to be on the fast track,” Mayor Rosemarie DeAngelis said Tuesday. “We need to have the design standards in place.”

The moratorium idea was prompted by a recent proposal by Glenn Perry and his business partner, Ian Hayward. They want to build a small grocery on a Pillsbury Street lot owned by Perry. Ebo’s Market would sell fruit, vegetables, soups, sandwiches, meats and prepared foods.

The proposal has stirred up controversy in the neighborhood, as some are concerned about the increased traffic, parking and the impact on public safety. About 200 people signed a petition calling for a moratorium, and they have made their opinions known to city officials through emails and meetings.

Now councilors face pressure from the residential side, as well as from the developers, who have already purchased the property and whose concept fits the zoning at Willard Square, which is a short walk from a popular public beach.

DeAngelis said she hopes for a compromise, and that Perry and Hayward move forward with the project after the 95-day moratorium, which appears likely to be approved and would be retroactive to May 2. She doesn’t want to send a negative message to entrepreneurs who are considering developments in areas zoned for a mix of residential and commercial uses.

“I do hear the concerns of the neighborhood and I certainly am concerned about the safety and well-being of everyone traveling through the square, whether driving or walking or biking. But we also need to be fair in a process to somebody who bought a property in good faith,” she said.

Zoning amendments in 2006 changed the classification at Willard Square to “village commercial.” The idea was to promote a blend of residences and as many as 10 community-oriented businesses. The four businesses operating in the square are Scratch Bakery, Willard Scoops ice cream shop, Bathra’s Market and Townsend Realty.

But unlike the nearby Knightville village commercial zone, design standards were never drafted and adopted for Willard Square. Those standards, such as architectural styles and lighting preferences, help give an area a uniform look and feel.

The timetable calls for the planning department and the Planning Board to have design standards for the Willard Square zone ready for public hearing in late July, putting the City Council in position to vote on them in August.

Councilor Maxine Beecher said that’s a tall task, but she thinks it’s manageable.

“The staff has their marching orders, and they are going to work very hard to get there,” Beecher said.

“It is so important for those builders, too, because this is a store. Those neighbors are your customers. You really want them to get along with you and like you,” she said. “As difficult as it seems right now, in the end I think there will be something that works best for the builders and the neighbors.”

Staff writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]