SOUTH PORTLAND – In a basement on Pillsbury Street at Willard Square, Glenn Perry and Ian Hayward sift through stacks of paperwork, spread out on long plastic tables.

Site plan drawings. Income projections. City regulations.

The business partners handle the papers quietly and carefully, with the grim look of mourners.

“We thought this was just the thing that would be embraced here. We were pretty jazzed,” said Perry on a rainy day last week, glancing up at a drawing of the planned Ebo’s Market, originally called “Mr. Delicious.”

Both are nicknames for Perry, a wine salesman and self-described foodie who has bounced around Portland’s food and beverage scene since the 1980s.

“We were wrong,” he said.

Since buying this property at Willard Square in November, Perry says he sank $55,000 into a site plan, designs and other preliminary work for the “dream” business he hoped to open with Hayward, a young cook whose father, Sam Hayward, is the celebrated chef at Fore Street in Portland’s Old Port.

Encouraged by the city’s planning office and zoning that calls for up to six more businesses at Willard Square, the partners envisioned a small market that would be built next to Perry’s two-story apartment house.

What they didn’t foresee was the opposition.

Several neighbors, concerned about the planned market’s impact on the square, said the area is already congested and dangerous. Perry and Hayward’s project, the neighbors objected, simply wasn’t a good fit.

They started a petition and lobbied the City Council to impose a building moratorium for the 12 properties that make up the village-commercial zone. Unanimously, the council passed a first reading of the moratorium May 16.

And just like that, Ebo’s was dead on arrival.

“Our banker wanted to know, when is all of this going to end?” Perry said. “The best I could hope for was breaking ground in January. The bank pulled out. The threat of endless revision, that’s what killed it.”

In hindsight, it was a collision of two American ideals.

On one hand were the entrepreneurs who wanted a reliable process as they invested time and money into a project. And on the other hand were neighbors who wanted a strong voice in the evolving landscape in which they raise their children and lead their daily lives.

“We are not against development,” said Linda Sanborn, a Thompson Street resident who has lived here for 40 years. “We are against changing the texture and safety of our neighborhood.”

All of which leaves Willard Square, often characterized at city meetings as peaceful, quaint and friendly, in a bit of a bind.

If the square is to remain a village-commercial zone — with possibly another six businesses to join the existing Bathras Market, Scratch Bakery, Willard Scoops ice cream shop and Townsend Realty — then what changes are needed to encourage development while protecting public safety and maintaining the charm of the area?

That’s the task facing City Planner Tex Haeuser, the rest of the planning staff and the Planning Board. They’ve been asked by the City Council to come up with design standards for the square. Design standards cover such factors as scale, orientation and compatibility with the existing buildings in an area.

The planners expect to examine the capacity of the streets to handle additional parking that would be needed with more development.

“The exercise is to look at build-out scenarios. How much parking is available? How much would be needed if it all got built out?” Haeuser said.

The review also will include traffic patterns. Mayor Rosemarie DeAngelis has suggested making Thompson Street, home to the bustling Small Elementary School, one way. Others have suggested a roundabout at the square, or angled parking.

“It seems this is the right time to come back to looking at the geometrics of the square,” Haeuser said.

Residents of the Willard neighborhood have expressed strong support for the moratorium.

“The current conflict over the proposed development at 7 Pillsbury did not come as a surprise. We have been there before,” Betty Hickey-Perna wrote in a letter to city officials.

“The City has long been aware of the concerns raised when earlier development plans were unveiled. It is for that reason that there is no time like the present to stop and begin work on a plan that the people of Willard Square can support and that will clearly define the parameters of any new development.”

“We’re trying to hold on to something special,” resident Lisa McCray told the Planning Board.

While the review of the zoning might help business startups in the future, it’s no solace for Perry and Hayward. They feel mistreated and say their project was mischaracterized.

The business partners thought they could add to the vibe of the square. They hoped to buy from local food producers, and to hire culinary students from nearby Southern Maine Community College for training at better than minimum wage. The plan for Ebo’s Market included a watering station for dogs, outside seating and a bike rack.

Perry said they realized things weren’t quite right in late March, when they saw messages on the Willard Neighborhood Associations Yahoo! groups page.

Stephanie Cooke of Thompson Street started the conversation by letting neighbors know about the basics of the proposal and her concerns about safety, parking and congestion, and the aesthetic of the square.

About a dozen people responded. Most of them opposed the project for a variety of reasons, including a desire to protect Bathras Market from competition.

George and Christina Bathras ran a neighborhood market at Willard Square from the 1950s to the late 1980s. Their grandson Tim Bathras and his wife, Kate, reopened the store May 11.

Perry and Hayward thought they could tailor their offerings to be a different type of market.

“Businesses cluster for a reason,” Perry said. “We wanted to find ways to co-exist and make each other more successful.”

Kate Bathras said she and her husband introduced themselves and had a meeting with Perry and Hayward.

“There was some overlap, but there was some sense that maybe we’d have different menu items, different items for sale,” Bathras said. “I didn’t get the impression they were coming in and trying to squash our opening.”

Bathras said her family was aware of the neighborhood opposition to Ebo’s Market, but they made a conscious effort to stay out of the debate.

“We didn’t want the neighbors to be making any decisions because of us,” she said.

A meeting between Perry and Hayward and the neighbors was held April 21.

Perry thought there would be a moderator, such as Haeuser or another city official, but that didn’t happen. Perry said the large crowd was hostile and launched into two hours of harsh criticisms.

“People were screaming at us, muttering, actually shaking fists,” Perry said. “One woman at the end got up and said, ‘I don’t like you and we don’t want your store,’ and that was met by a round of applause. My wife was sobbing.”

The next day, neighbor Scott Akerman posted a message on the Yahoo! site.

“We need two markets across the street from each other like we need a second bakery — we don’t. I’m going to fight this if I have to lay down in front of the excavator. I didn’t move to the neighborhood to have some developer jump in and ruin the convivial atmosphere we have there. That guy can take his red ‘Sally Jesse Raphael’ glasses and stuff them. In my humble opinion.”

In an interview last week, Akerman said the message was over the top, and he regrets his choice of words. But he said he had good reason to be frustrated.

While Perry saw a hostile crowd, Akerman saw something much different. He said Perry came off as arrogant, dismissive and unwilling to hear the concerns of residents.

“We felt sort of blindsided by these guys showing up and saying, ‘Here is what we are doing, and it’s going in,’” Akerman said.

He said Perry and Hayward had no answers about how to address the safety concerns that would accompany increased traffic at the square.

“Some people had some valid questions, some people were just emotional,” Akerman said of the April 21 meeting. “The attitude we got from (Perry) was, ‘You can say whatever you want, but it’s going in.’

“If it had been a different approach, I think it could have had another outcome.”

Perry and Hayward said they have not made any decisions about whether they’ll try to revive their project elsewhere.

Hayward said concerns about safety and traffic should have been dealt with by the Planning Board, not with a moratorium that killed the project.

“We take the safety of the square very seriously,” Hayward said. He believes the neighbors were primarily concerned about Bathras Market and with keeping the square the way it is, but framed the opposition in a discussion of traffic, safety and design standards.

“This is about choosing which retailer they want to come here. That’s spot zoning, and it’s wrong,” Hayward said.

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

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