Our Islands, Our Future

Will SpenceContinuing our series on newly appointed County Department Directors, reflecting the role of government in responding to community values and needs.

“As an avid photographer, I truly appreciate the breathtaking landscapes of Maui. Protecting them, preserving view planes, and making common sense decisions to limit human impacts on our environment are close to my heart,” says Will Spence, the new County Director of Planning. Among Spence’s priorities are streamlining the permitting process and reviewing procedures to simplify the application and approval process. “Regulation needs to serve a purpose,” observes Spence. “Without appreciable environmental protections or community benefits, putting our residents through a costly, lengthy, or complicated process for its own sake makes little sense.”

Spence’s philosophy is to provide opportunities and incentives for encouraging “smart” development—for example, in existing urban areas and locations identified in the Maui County Plan. Spence points out that the basis of Maui County’s zoning code was established in the 1960s, when most development was focused on large projects – resorts, hotels, and condominiums, and major infrastructure. The permitting process has always reflected this history so that it has not been as nimble or as customized as citizens would like, and it has left out the little guy, says Spence. “The planning process needs to be user-friendly and adaptable, and reflect community priorities like supporting a diverse and sustainable economy, preserving the environment, recognizing cultural sensitivities, and simply reflecting human needs. It should also reflect the era of the internet and modern technology.”

With a planning degree, Spence has worked on Maui in the field for almost 20 years, both as a planner for the County and in the private sector as a consultant. “One of the things I particularly appreciate about my role now is that the County Department Directors work very collaboratively – we talk to each other all the time, and that really helps get things done.”