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Fall 2009
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Lake County, Florida, Creates Customer Service-Oriented Analytic Tool with GIS

ZapMap Streamlines Zoning and Permits Map Application

Highlights

  • With ArcView-based ZapMap, planners can search for a property and see all the previous activity associated with it.
  • All property questions, and more, can now be answered right from the desktop.
  • County staff increasingly ask for access to the application.

Lake County is located at the center of peninsular Florida. For most of its history, it was a rural county of clean lakes and orange groves, and agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. In the 1980s, it was considered a rural getaway from the adjacent fast-growing Orange County (home of Walt Disney World) and was in the precomputer age when maps were paper and zoning clearances were filled out by hand.

  an example of the ZapMap application
An example of the ZapMap application. The table of contents shows all the subtype documents that were mapped. They were then overlaid on the parcel basemap and current aerial photography to provide a clear picture of the existing land use in order to determine future allowable development.

The county suffered a major blow to its citrus crops in the 1980s when two freezes killed off many of the groves. During the development boom of the 1990s and 2000s, development soared as grove owners turned their unprofitable agricultural lands into highly profitable housing developments. But it came so quickly that county planners were nearly overwhelmed with development requests. Processing times of days became weeks, then months, as the volume of requests climbed annually. Decisions over whether to permit were based on paper maps that were literally falling apart, and files to be researched had to first be retrieved from several off-site storage facilities. Something had to be done to modernize the way Lake County did business.

Leadership came from the top, when the director of the Growth Management Department decided that the solution could be the implementation of a GIS. Following a period of software solution evaluations, an interactive mapping application proposed utilizing ArcView, which would bring all the necessary spatial and tabular data for planning and decision making together. It would contain a basemap of existing layers, such as topography, floodplain, and parcels, and most importantly, it would contain a new layer identifying properties that have development approval.

Lake County had the need to analyze and spatially record a number of development requirements, such as lot splits, zoning changes, site plans, unity of titles, and variances. These were the types of documents that needed to be made digital and visible on a map for both spatial and visual analysis. The county decided to identify each of the properties defined by these documents and, using ArcView, map them into a personal geodatabase that could then be displayed on the interactive basemap.

The first step was to gather all the documents together. This was an organizational challenge of heroic proportions. Archives and storage facilities had to be searched. But the location of these documents was only half the battle and was hindered by the condition of the documents. Many were decades old and handwritten or carbon copied, and the ink was fading. The GIS implementation team had to carefully examine each document that was to be mapped to input all the data accurately.

Once the data sources were identified, a personal geodatabase was designed and built in ArcGIS Desktop (ArcCatalog), later to be transferred to a multieditor geodatabase environment.

Domains were assigned for several of the document types since they had various subtypes (e.g., lot splits could be family lot splits, minor lot splits, etc.). Two part-time and two full-time GIS staff were assigned to this project, and each was given a copy of the personal geodatabase.

The GIS team then began the mapping process. Over the next 18 months, the team analyzed each document, geocoding the location based on the legal description of the properties approved for development. The team employed several different methods in locating the properties, including searching the parcel layer, reading and plotting the legal description, and address matching. Then the team members copied and pasted the parcel into the document feature class, used various sketching techniques, or sometimes even used the coordinate geometry (COGO) Traverse tool. Each record was attributed with data taken from the document, and documents that had been recorded by the County Clerk's Office had the URL of their scanned image pasted into a hyperlink field to give instant access to the image of the document. More than 30,000 documents were input in this manner. As each team member finished with a document type, features were copied into a master geodatabase that collected all the data into one place.

This was the birth of Lake County's Zoning and Permits Map Application, or ZapMap. The necessary layers were added to an ArcGIS Desktop (ArcMap) map document, symbolized, and labeled. Planners now had the ability to search for a property and see all the previous activity associated with that property to determine the zoning or whether it had been split from a larger parent parcel, had a variance, or had any wetlands or floodplains. All these questions, and more, could now be answered right from the desktop.

Once the map document (MXD file) was created, the GIS implementation team started with a small group to test-drive the application. As was expected, when more staff saw ZapMap in action, they wanted access to it. ZapMap was then remodeled as a single geodatabase feature class. All the individual document-type layers were combined into one feature class called BuildableLots, and each document type became a subtype within the feature class. The individual domains were then associated with a specific subtype.

Staff now use ZapMap to determine if a property can be developed or if further permitting needs to be granted. It has become a powerful analytic tool to the decision makers of Lake County.

More Information

For more information, contact Sue Carroll, GISP, Office of Information Technology, Lake County, Florida (e-mail: scarroll@lakecountyfl.gov).

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