September 22, 2017

Windham’s new Code Enforcement Officer, Chris Hanson says, “I’m here to help” by Walter Lunt

Chris Hanson’s job is the enforcement of building, energy and shore-land zoning ordinances, and he’s crossed the line. The town line from Raymond to Windham, that is.
Technically, Hanson’s job title is Director of Code Enforcement and Zoning Administration. His appointment comes on the heels of a stormy and controversial period in the town’s code enforcement office.

Town Manager Tony Plante said he sees Hanson’s arrival as, “an opportunity to create a new relationship with builders and the community at large.”

Chris Hanson's first day on the job
Chosen from a field of 16 candidates through a lengthy and inclusive selection process, Plante praises Hanson’s unique experiences and “solution-oriented approaches” to building code issues.

“His familiarity with the area will mean a shorter learning curve with builders, contractors and others.” Those who worked with Hanson over his eight years in Raymond agree. 

“It’s a good career move for Chris and a positive one for Windham,” said Raymond Town Manager Don Willard. “Although we’ll miss him here, it presents us with the opportunity (to find a successor) that will reflect the progress of the past and continue the quality responses (to code enforcement issues) that the town is known for.” 

Willard said Hanson was instrumental in the changeover to computerized records in the code office, which helped merge office data with field records. The search for a new C.E.O. is underway in Raymond. In the meantime, the town has engaged the services of a retired code officer from Cape Elizabeth two days a week, while field inspections are being carried out by code personnel from Gray, Casco and Poland.

Hanson’s first big challenge in Windham arrived just before he did. With the chair barely warm in his new office, the only items on his desk were his computer and a thick manuscript of the controversial Highland Lake Watershed moratorium that will freeze activity on close to one-thousand private property parcels. Just hours into his first day on the job, Hanson had already fielded calls from one or two stakeholders.

“This is a sobering period for people who live on the watershed. While (they) are stuck in the middle, the quality of our lakes is equally important,” said Hanson.

Asked about his general approach and philosophy to code enforcement, Hanson says, “Right now I need a week or two to get into the driver’s seat. I want to make this office efficient and appealing to the public, (a place) to help with their plans, their dreams and their goals.”

Before gaining state building and shoreland zoning certifications and becoming a licensed plumbing inspector, Hanson was a builder and developer. “I was in construction for over 30 years, so I know what it was like to be on the other side of the fence. My role (now) is educational and advisory. As a public servant, we’re here to assist the general public, landowners and businesses in the permitting process – (sometimes) a project just needs a fresh set of eyes. I enjoy working with people, but I can be firm when necessary.”

Raymond Town Manager Willard insists Hanson runs a code office with just that approach.
“He has a strong background in the building trades – he sees things from both sides. He has an analytical mind, is detail-oriented and is helpful in guiding citizens through the permitting process while safeguarding the natural environment.”

“I miss him already,” says Mary Quirk, administrative assistant to code, zoning and the planning board in Raymond. “He knows how to be a team player. He’s flexible. And he understands and appreciates an applicant’s vision of a project (and helps achieve it) within the confines of the ordinances and regulations.” 

That’s good news for Windham Fire Chief Brent Libby, who says “Communication (between the departments) is crucial, especially from a public safety standpoint.” Libby says he looks forward to working with Hanson, especially given the reputation that precedes him.

And there’s optimism, too, from at least one camp in the building trades. Tim Tanberg of C.R. Tanberg Excavation and Construction of Windham commented, “Windham is fortunate to hire somebody with years of experience, is familiar with the local infrastructure, and is willing to do the hours it takes to help Windham move forward.” Tanberg also had praise for the selection process under Town Manager Plante.

Hanson, who grew up in Gray, is no stranger to the lakes region.

“I was swimming at my grandparent’s camp on Sebago when I was six years old,” he said. Later, in the 80s he would help build his parents’ home on Sebago Lake.

“So, this has always been my backyard.”

Overheard in a parking lot on Hanson’s first day, an acquaintance of Hanson’s said to him, tongue-in-cheek, “Welcome to Windham – I give you six months.”

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