Bath city planner to retire in September

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BATH — Jim Upham, the city’s planning director for 15 years, announced Monday that he will retire Sept. 30.

Among other things during Upham’s tenure, Front Street was named one of the American Planning Association’s 10 “Great Streets of 2009.” The association lauded the “long-standing commitment of city leaders, merchants and residents to protect the street’s historic and maritime character as well as its economic vitality.”

“It’s nothing that I did,” Upham said on Tuesday. “The city as a whole has done a great job.”

City Manager Bill Giroux praised Upham’s work for the city, noting that Upham has “been a pleasure to work with. He’s a very bright man, and I often went to him for advice. We’re going to miss him.”

The city will advertise soon for Upham’s replacement. Giroux expects that person to begin before Upham’s final day, to give the two a few days to work together.

Upham, 65, grew up in Auburn. Following his graduation from the University of New Hampshire, he served in the U.S. Navy from 1968-1972, during the Vietnam War.

“I always wanted to be in planning,” Upham said, noting that his father was a longtime Planning Board member in Auburn, “and I think that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

He became town manager of Mattawamkeag in 1973, a way to break into the municipal management field. The following year he served in that capacity in Glenburn, where he stayed until 1978.

“I learned a lot; I did everything,” Upham said of the early days of his career. “I was the tax collector and treasurer, and welfare director, and road commissioner. I drove a snow plow truck one time. It was a valuable, valuable experience. I learned an awful lot about what towns and cities do, and what the various positions do.”

Upham served as a planner in Bangor from 1978-1982, and then was planning director in Sanford until 1987. He then worked as a senior planner, first with the Dubois & King consulting firm in Saco and then with the Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission. He served as executive director of the latter organization until December 1995, when he became planning director in Wells.

A few months later, Upham got a call from Duncan Ballantyne, Bath’s city manager at the time. The planning director job had opened, but Upham didn’t apply for it; since he had just started in Wells, he said, he didn’t think it would be professional to switch jobs so quickly.

Ballantyne encouraged him to drive up anyway and chat.

“I grew up in Maine and had never been in downtown Bath,” Upham said.

He was impressed enough with the city to bring Susan, his wife of now 42 years, back for a return trip that weekend. Upham was offered the job and started in June 1996.

Upham called Bath “a great, little urban place. It’s right on the river, and it’s walkable. … I can work in City Hall, and at lunchtime I can go to a restaurant if I wanted to, or walk around the city with my wife and our dog, which we do every noontime.”

Plus the location fits in with Upham’s sailing interests. His High Street home has “a great view of the river,” he said.

Upham noted that working in Bath for 15 years has allowed him the chance to watch a dream germinate. The renovation and reuse of the historic train station at 15 Commercial St., and improvements made around that building, along with work at the South End Boat Launch, are examples of many plans that have come to fruition during his time has planner.

He added that one of the jobs of the people who run the city “is to not screw things up, and also to not let others screw things up, and we’ve been able to do that. … We’ve all done, I think, a good job in not allowing mistakes to be made.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.