New feature puts county maps at residents’ fingertips

Though the county’s new online-mapping and aerial-photography feature on chesterfield.gov will save staff time, achieving that goal was secondary.

“We’re counting on it saving time for our staff,” said Barry Condrey, the county’s chief information officer. “But, more than that, we’re interested in saving our citizens’ time. … Government should be about them, it shouldn’t be about us.”

The new feature, dubbed CitizenGIS, allows residents and others to see detailed map layers and aerial photography provided by the county’s Geographic Information System online and avoid a trip to the county government complex, a press release on the new feature says. CitizenGIS provides detailed electronic map layers showing parcels and property lines, subdivisions, streets, resource protection areas, public easements, fire hydrants and areas where zoning cases are pending, the release says. It also includes layers showing magisterial and school districts, as well as flood plains and other information, it says.

Development of the feature took about six months and was completed in house, Condrey said. The staff members working on the project combined “a number of different sources of information,” including aerial images provided by the state, he said. The aerial images were taken in 2009, he said, and the next flyover will take place in 2013.

The county did spend some money on licensing for GIS and servers to run the new feature on, Condrey said. Overall, implementing the new feature cost about $25,000, he said.

“It’s quite a deal, frankly,” he said.

The goal is to give residents the information they need on their terms, he said. Though some residents may still need to come to the county government complex to talk about land use and other matters, they can now find a host of answers online, he said. For example, if someone’s interested in buying a piece of property, they can look it up on CitizenGIS, find out who owns it and contact the property owner at their leisure, he said.

The other group likely to make use of the feature is land developers, Condrey said.

“They can use this as their first stop for scoping out parcels,” he said. Tools in the program allow users to draw polygons or make annotations on maps, which they can then print out with those drawings or notes on them.

“We’ll be adding more layers and more capabilities to expand it for use for the land development community,” he said. Those changes could include changes to the markup tools or the incorporation of more map layers. About 30 or 40 layers are “on” right now, he said, but “we have a couple hundred layers” and different ones could be turned on.

“One of our goals was to make the online mapping features as intuitive as possible for users,” GIS Manager Nancy Parker says in the release.

Once in the application, a user can navigate through the system without much more than a computer mouse, the release says. Users can use addresses to find locations, scroll in any direction, use a zooming feature that enables them to increase the size and detail of what’s on the screen and find detailed information about parcels with a click, it says. And, users can bookmark areas they want to revisit, it says.

“Everybody I’ve talked to loves it,” Condrey said, though acceptance of the tool will likely come with time. “We think it represents the state of the art for GIS over the Internet.”

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