After nine months and just under $30,000, the city of Charlottesville has launched a state-of-the-art Geographic Information Systems web viewer . The online application provides the public with quick and easy  access to planning and property information such as real estate assessments, zoning information, flood zones and aerial photography.

“Everyone who has seen it has had a positive response as it provides easy access to a great deal of information that was not previously available,” said Chris Engel , the city’s director of economic development.

Construction of the application was spurred into action, in part, by a complaint filed by local Realtor, Donna Goings. Goings became frustrated by the absence of a public GIS system in Charlottesville after using neighboring counties’ GIS viewers to find property information. Albemarle County released its GIS viewer application in 2006.

“We have the highest tax rate around and we have the poorest real estate assessment site,” Goings said. “We were just behind the times.”

City staff created a cross-departmental GIS team and worked with Worldview Solutions, a Richmond-based GIS consulting firm, to tackle creating a GIS viewer application of their own.

“We used a brand-new code base … to give this a more modern look and feel,” said Stuart Blankenship, the applications manager for Worldview Solutions. “We wanted [the application] to be able to be used across all Internet browsers and it works pretty well with the iPad.”

City staff also said they are excited to make the information they have been using for years in-house more accessible to the public.

“Not everyone has GIS software on their computers, but everyone has Internet access,” Engel said.

Engel also spoke about how this program will lighten the workload for city employees.


Mark Simpson & Chris Engel

“We are expecting this to be useful to our staff, as well,” Engel said. “Now someone can go to their desk and quickly see if an address is within city boundaries.”

City Councilor Dede Smith was present at Tuesday’s launch event and asked if the software could be combined with the parks and recreation database that recorded information about the city’s tree canopy in 2006.

“Certainly how much you put into this is going to depend on content and public interest,” Smith said. “But the tree canopy can impact economic development issues.”

Mark Simpson , GIS coordinator for Charlottesville, responded by saying that the GIS team chose the current data set based on what they thought the public wanted to see.

“Anything we have that is in a geographical form can be put on here,” Simpson said. “We have the flexibility to include those types of information.”

The GIS team’s next project will be developing explanatory videos to post with the application and adding new information layers suggested by the public.

The application is available at http://gisweb.charlottesville.org/GISViewer/ .

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