South Portland Planning Director Tex Haeuser will retire March 12 after 30 years on the job. He said the new director will have a “full plate.” Kate Irish Collins / The Forecaster

SOUTH PORTLAND — In his three decades as city planner, Tex Haeuser has seen South Portland change dramatically. And while planning and zoning has become more complicated, it will be up to someone else to help the city through its next period of growth.

Haeuser will retire March 12, 30 years to the day after he was hired to lead the city’s growth and development efforts.

City Manager Scott Morelli said the new planning director will be faced with a number of “pressing issues upon their arrival, and we’ll also be looking to them to bring forth innovations” and new ways of doing business.

The biggest change Haeuser has seen, he said, is in how people live.

“We definitely have a need for a greater variety and quantity of housing,” he said, while also noting the “city is now thoroughly mixed” in terms of diverse uses and populations.

During the Great Recession, Haeuser said South Portland saw a noticeable dip in development and new projects, but now the city is in a period of expansion.

The planning office is dealing with new uses, such as medical marijuana facilities and the short-term rental trend. A key concern going forward will be the preservation of open space, Haeuser said.

“We’ve got a full plate,” he said.

In years to come, Haeuser anticipates South Portland will have to face a number of issues around density and building heights.

“Theoretically,” he said, “there’s a limit to growth, but the current infrastructure may be able to handle more growth than people are psychologically willing to accept.”

Haeuser also said sustainable building design and environmentally-related concerns are likely to become more and more part of planning and development.

While the “tension between property rights and the public good is an eternal one that must always be wrestled with,” he said, these days there seems to be an overall “community sentiment that it’s reasonable and for the good of all to have a certain amount of regulation.”

Haeuser lives in South Portland and says he plans to stay. He fell into a career in municipal planning after first studying religion and then geology. What he’ll miss most is the “day-to-day collaboration and the bundle of challenges.”

“I’ve had a good run and it’s time to give others a chance,” Haeuser said.

This week Morelli said South Portland is still in the process of hiring a new planning director, but hopes to make an announcement soon.

Morelli called Haeuser “an institution.”

“It’s not often someone stays with a community for 30 years,” he said. “I very much appreciate his passion and knowledge of planning and this community. He certainly has moved us forward during his career and I hope he is proud of his many accomplishments.”

Morelli said it’s not difficult to see Haeuser’s contributions and influence.

“(Take) any significant transportation, pedestrian, or zone change project over the past three decades, and you’re apt to find Tex’s fingerprints all over it,” Morelli said.

In recent years, Morelli said, Haeuser has also “really helped to ensure that the city’s planning efforts incorporated sustainability.”

In terms of the challenges facing the new planning director, Morelli said that person would be jumping into a department with a lot going on.

“We have an enormous amount of applications for various projects in the works, and we have several master plans (waterfront, mall area, Cash Corner) that will need to be undertaken,” Morelli said, adding that the Comprehensive Plan needs updating.

Haeuser is not sure what he’ll do during his retirement, but he hopes to advise municipalities in Maine and elsewhere on how to respond and adapt to climate change.

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