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Summer 2003
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Online Only Article Regional Planning and Development Agency

New Jersey Meadowlands Commission Improves Efficiency, Accuracy With GIS

The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) is a regional planning and development agency with authority encompassing a 32-square-mile area in the urban setting of northern New Jersey. NJMC averages 600 development applications per year that range from zoning certificates to building construction to subdivisions and variance reviews. Land uses in the NJMC District are a diverse mix of industrial and commercial as well as an abundance of open space and wetlands.

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NJMC staff can now quickly and efficiently monitor and extract statistics of the ongoing changes in the NJMC District. Statistics, such as new building square footage, land use types, new tenants, available industrial square footage, and construction costs, can now be accessed either through a database or spatially through a map of the district permits in the first phase.

The broad powers of NJMC not only include the enforcement of zoning and building codes but also master planning, redevelopment, and solid waste management. Each of these different functions represents a stand-alone data repository.

Over the years, the volume and complexity of work done by NJMC grew, increasing the level of work necessary to maintain tracking and reporting. The data from building and zoning applications was housed in legacy databases that were in antiquated formats and accessible only to limited staff. The data tracking capabilities were narrow and not compatible with other software programs. Information could only be updated between systems by manual data entry and time-consuming batch file updates. The result was that some data was updated infrequently, causing setbacks in communication and reporting and lengthy delays in approvals and reviews. In addition, work flow was often hampered when files passed from one department to another became lost in the shuffle.

In 2000, NJMC evaluated its pressing need and sought means to improve the efficiency and accuracy of tracking permit data. Overflowing paperwork, deciphering of handwritten notes, and locating documents (hard-copy and digital) further accentuated the need for change.

But a potential solution was already right at hand. It was only necessary to learn how to tap into it. A wide range of spatial data had already been created and maintained over the years by the GIS Department using ArcInfo, deployed through maps using ArcView, and viewed through ArcExplorer. NJMC only needed a way to make these maps widely available so that staff throughout the organization could share them and interact with them.

According to Adrian Molato, GIS specialist for NJMC, "We began reviewing various vendors' products. After a demonstration from Municipal Software Corporation (Victoria, British Columbia), an Esri Canada Business Partner, we recognized that its CityView Enterprise was the solution we needed to achieve our objectives and handle our evolving needs. To better track the ongoing physical and economic changes in the district, we implemented the software in the fall of 2001 to automate zoning, land use, and construction permits in the first phase."

NJMC staff are now able to quickly and efficiently monitor and extract statistics of the ongoing changes in the NJMC District. Statistics such as new building square footage, land use types, new tenants, available industrial square footage, and construction costs can now be accessed either through a database or spatially through a map of the district.

"We have now centralized all our data in a single database," according to Molato. "Work flow is improved, there is a reduction in paperwork, reporting is greatly improved, and data is updated for all departments on a real-time basis."

Although staff are able to utilize ArcExplorer to view GIS coverages, they now have the capability to view preset maps in MapObjects, an embedded component in CityView Enterprise. More so than before, staff can now link directly to existing spatial data through an easy-to-use interface that allows them to easily add, remove, and edit layouts of preset GIS maps. As an example, staff can create quick layer properties for expired permits, violations, and new buildings.

Molato emphasizes, "The results of our GIS efforts are now available throughout the organization, and NJMC staff can not only manipulate and add layers but also view and print their own maps."

With a staff of three full-time and one part-time GIS professionals and several Rutgers University interns, the GIS Department has seen its projects grow in diversity and size. The critical GIS coverages that are frequently used and are included on CityView Enterprise software's MapObjects component are parcel, hydrology, roads, contours, land use, zoning, transportation, wetlands, and planimetric (buildings).

The GIS Department is constantly producing maps to serve NJMC as well as private consultants and public institutions. As an example, maps will play an important role in a recently revised master plan for the entire NJMC District. Maps depicting proposed land uses, transportation routes, and the latest census data are just a few. NJMC has also worked in collaboration with Rutgers University's Center for Information Management, Integration and Connectivity in using ArcIMS to develop the Digital Meadowlands, an environmental information system that contains interactive maps about the Meadowlands (cimic.rutgers.edu/digitalmeadowlands).

For more information, contact Adrian Molato, GIS specialist, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (tel.: 201-460-4617, e-mail: amolato@meadowlands.state.nj.us), or Ian Carmichael, marketing manager, Municipal Software Corporation (tel.: 250-475-6600, ext. 239; e-mail: icarmichael@municipalsoftware.com).

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