Decision Support Streamlined in Florida
Manatee County Building Department Uses GIS for Permitting Work Flow
By Matt Palavido, GIS Manager, Manatee County Information Services Department, GIS Section
Located on the central Gulf Coast of Florida, Manatee County government in Bradenton, Florida, serves a population of roughly 290,000 citizens. Like much of south and central Florida, the population in Manatee County has been steadily increasing. Since the 2000 census, an estimated 23,000 people have relocated to the county. Along with this increase in population comes an increase in construction of new buildings and infrastructure. The Manatee County Building Department is responsible for issuing the permits for this construction.
In the past, the Building Department's daily procedures involved tedious parcel-level research using multiple data sources. A good example is the use of cumbersome sets of static paper maps to delineate property boundaries, future land use, zoning, and flood prone areas. The data on these maps is only as current as the day it was produced. Reviewing a permit application using outdated data can lead to a whole host of problems, including legal issues.
Well before the groundbreaking of any new construction, an extensive building permit application review is done. During this review, the location of the property, zoning, future land use, flood zones, overlay districts, impact fees, and watersheds are all considered before the issuance of a building permit. The application process can be straightforward if applicants have done their research. On the other hand, if applicants have not done research on the property on which they would like to build, the process can be drawn out and frustrating to both the applicant and the Building Department.
After a permit is issued, construction can begin; however, several inspections must take place during the construction phase, and being able to track the progress and status of these inspections is essential.
The Manatee County GIS section, housed within the Information Services Department, was started in 1990 with a few workstations and ArcInfo licenses. The main responsibility of the section was to generate basemapping data and create a digital representation of the parcel fabric. As time went on and the true power of GIS was realized, the GIS section's responsibilities grew. In its current form, the GIS section supports any county department needing GIS services. This includes the Planning, Environmental Management, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Utilities, Transportation, and Building Departments.
The range of responsibilities of the GIS section made its goal explicitly clear: an enterprise GIS flexible enough to support the differing needs and skill levels of each department. The first enterprise-minded project tackled was to create a Web-based GIS tailored to the specific needs of the Building Department. The GIS would deliver fast, accurate, and current data within a single user-friendly application, which in turn would streamline the cumbersome permitting work flow. Staff from the GIS section met with staff from the Building Department to determine the users' needs and a scope of work. After several meetings, the scope became clear, and it was time for the GIS section to decide on the method of delivery.
Since the Building Department had a varying number of users with varying skill levels, the GIS section wanted to deploy a thin client application that was easy-to-use and accessible anywhere. After considering many options, ArcIMS was chosen because of its ability to serve browser-based GIS applications, relative ease of customization, and user friendliness. To handle the high volume of traffic anticipated, ArcIMS was installed on a Sunfire 280 server.
In Phase I of application development, the layout and functionality of the interface were created with many user testing and acceptance periods. Once the interface was accepted, Phase II began, which entailed map creation and symbology selection.
The initial two phases of the project consisted of providing the following items agreed upon during the user needs assessment:
Making all this data available and searchable via a single application has made a previously tedious and time-consuming research effort quick and easy. As a result, the number of applications that can be researched and processed by the Building Department has increased dramatically.
By also making this application available to the public via the Internet, applicants are better prepared beforehand. This not only makes the application process move more efficiently, it in turn cuts down on public foot traffic in the Building Department as well.