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Winter 2008/2009
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Cobb County, Georgia, Leverages GIS

Accurate, Accessible Data Critical for Zoning

By David Haines, GISP, AICP, Project Manager, R.A. Smith National

Highlights

  • Enterprise GIS helps Cobb County develop a zoning geodatabase and digitize hard-copy zoning maps.
  • The zoning layers are accessed through ArcIMS software-based interactive mapping Web and intranet sites.
  • GIS provides local government with time- and cost-saving benefits for better management of zoning data.

Not being able to quickly access a community's current zoning information can be frustrating and time consuming. Zoning data that is accurate and easily accessible is critical to the land-use planning and development efforts of community development staff, planners, engineers, private developers, and the public.

The accuracy and accessibility of zoning data was an issue in Cobb County, Georgia. This growing Atlanta suburb and major metropolitan area has a population of 660,000 and is responsible for regulating zoning for all unincorporated areas of the county, including more than 300 square miles.

  click to enlarge
Cobb County, Georgia, is able to accurately and easily access zoning data as one of several GIS layers on the county's interactive mapping Web site.

Historically, Cobb County used hand-drawn Mylar maps to record zoning information. Since the hand-drawn maps did not closely align with digital parcel data, the data's integrity was compromised. In addition, the data was not easily accessible to Cobb County's Community Development Agency, Zoning Division, Planning Commission, and Board of Commissioners; private developers; and the public.

In 2007, Cobb County worked with R.A. Smith National, an Esri Business Partner of Brookfield, Wisconsin, to develop a zoning geodatabase and digitize 46 hard-copy zoning maps at a scale of 1" = 500'. Cobb County chose R.A. Smith National because of the firm's experience in both GIS and planning, and Cobb County's enterprise GIS is based on the Esri platform. The zoning layers are used by the public through an ArcIMS software-based interactive mapping Web site and by county staff through an intranet ArcIMS application and ArcGIS Desktop. The zoning layers are stored in a geodatabase using ArcSDE technology.

Before creating the geodatabase, the developer first met with representatives from the County Board of Commissioners, Planning Commission, and Community Development Agency, as well as GIS and other department staff, to determine their current and desired uses for zoning data. It was quickly discovered that the county desired the ability to track the life cycle of a request from the original petition to its approval, as well as how the property was previously zoned.

Tim Scharff, GIS manager, Cobb County, is pleased with the project's results. He explains: "The zoning geodatabase developed by our partner helped us achieve our goals of converting our zoning data to GIS format, making the data accessible to those who need it and linking our zoning data to other Cobb County applications as part of our enterprise GIS."

The ability to provide a complete history of all zoning requests is a unique aspect of Cobb County's geodatabase design. Database fields include the applicant's name, date of request, type of zoning, approval or denial status, reasons for a denial, and stipulations associated with an approval. Requests are also linked to additional information, such as Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners meeting minutes (and videos of the meeting), zoning analysis documents, and site plans. As a result of the zoning geodatabase, the county is now able to include zoning as one of several GIS layers on its ArcIMS software-based mapping Web site at gis.cobbcountyga.gov/maps.htm.

While the greatest time- and cost-saving efficiencies have been realized in the county's Community Development Agency and Zoning Division, other areas have benefited as well. Staff in the Stormwater Division and Department of Transportation previously spent time independently tracking zoning petitions since the information was not readily available from the Community Development Agency. Similarly, private developers and the public had to visit Cobb County's offices to obtain basic zoning information. Today, Cobb County's Web site provides a wealth of zoning information for anyone with Internet access.

About the Author

David Haines has 14 years of experience in all aspects of enterprise GIS operations.

More Information

For more information, contact Tim Scharff, GIS manager, Cobb County (tel.: 770-528-8776, e-mail: tim.scharff@cobbcounty.org), or David Haines, GISP, AICP, R.A. Smith National (tel.: 262-317-3375, e-mail: david.haines@rasmithnational.com).

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