SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council voted Monday night to approve design, traffic and parking changes to the mixed-used zone for Willard Square in an attempt to balance commercial development with residential uses.

But councilors decided against removing a controversial provision of the neighborhood’s Village Commercial zoning district, which allows only commercial uses on a building’s first floor.

That provision had sparked debate at a City Council meeting earlier this month, with at least three members arguing the provision should be removed because market forces should determine the use of a space, not the city.

But on Monday night, Councilor Thomas Coward said removal of the provision, which had been recommended by the Planning Board, was outside the purview of what the council had asked the board to do.

“The public as a whole has not had the chance to be heard,” Coward said. “My purpose in preserving the existing language is to engage the public as much as possible.”

Even councilors who objected to the provision supported Coward because the ordinance changes needed at least five votes to pass and would not have gone through without their support.

Councilor Tom Blake still summarized the position of those who support removal of the restriction on first-floor uses when he said, “I feel it should entirely be a landlord’s decision.”

Councilors subsequently voted to send the first-floor use issue back to the Planning Board for additional public input.

Adopted in 2006, Willard Square zoning calls for as many as 10 neighborhood-friendly businesses to complement the homes around the square.

But city officials felt zoning in Willard Square — the area between Willow, Thompson and Pillsbury streets — needed to be upgraded after entrepreneurs Glenn Perry and Ian Hayward went through all the steps necessary to build Ebo’s Market in Willard Square.

Their project lost its financing in June after the City Council enacted a 95-day building moratorium for Willard Square.

Some residents had expressed concerns that Ebo’s Market would create pedestrian safety issues.

Neighbors asked the council to enact a building moratorium to give the city time to set design standards for the zone and to examine parking and traffic issues. That moratorium will expire in October.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]