SOUTH PORTLAND — After apologizing to the property owners whose business plan was derailed by it, city councilors Monday night voted unanimously to impose a 95-day building moratorium at Willard Square.

Several councilors said they felt entrepreneurs Glenn Perry and Ian Hayward were treated unfairly this spring, but the moratorium is necessary to address larger traffic and public safety concerns.

The moratorium gives the city’s planning staff time to review the mixed-use zoning at Willard Square and potential impacts that would accompany further commercial development there.

“Safety is a huge issue for those folks who live in the Willard Square … and we have to think about that,” said Maxine Beecher, the councilor who originally proposed the moratorium at the request of several residents.

Perry and Hayward, meanwhile, announced that they will pursue a storefront in the nearby Knightville neighborhood. They are negotiating for a spot at Mill Cove Landing on Ocean Street.

“We’ve always been excited about the prospect of doing business in South Portland,” Perry said. “We’re determined to bounce back and open a store in Knightville.”

But Perry told the City Council on Monday night that he wants the city’s help to make it happen.

Perry said he “spent a fortune” on a site plan and other preliminary work to build a market at Willard Square. Although he met all zoning requirements, Perry said, he lost financing for his project last month after the council’s first reading of the moratorium.

“How will South Portland address the thousands of dollars that my family and my partner have spent in good faith?” Perry asked.

Mayor Rosemarie DeAngelis asked Perry and Hayward to provide the city with a list of their costs from the Willard Square project, so she could review the figures. City Manager Jim Gailey said he did not know of any cases in which the city has reimbursed a property owner for an action taken by the council.

Gailey recommended that the council proceed with the moratorium. “Let’s get things in place so we don’t relive this six months from now when another project comes along.”

A village-commercial zone, adopted in 2006 for the 12 properties that make up Willard Square, calls for up to 10 neighborhood-friendly businesses. Four businesses are up and running in the popular neighborhood.

Prompted by the proposal by Perry and Hayward, residents sent a loud message to City Hall that the zoning needs updating.

About a dozen residents spoke at Monday’s council meeting in favor of the moratorium.

“Unfortunately, the Willard village commercial zone does not take into account major economic and demographic changes since it was created,” said David Orbeton, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years. He noted large increases in the student populations at both Small Elementary School and nearby Southern Maine Community College.

Longtime Thompson Street resident Linda Sanborn said the moratorium gives the city a chance to tweak the zoning, which should have been done before a commercial project came along.

“I feel badly that this happened to Glenn and his partner’s project, but I’m hoping that moving down to Knightville is going to be a good fit for you,” she said.

 

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