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VOL. 116 | NO. 211 | Wednesday, October 30, 2002

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OPD Website

Planning division Web site to offer users instant access


The Daily News

Visitors to the Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning and Development Web site should soon be able to discover if a zoning change is slated for their neighborhood, apply for a permit online or find out the latest traffic count in their area.

Representatives of the division, which includes land use controls, regional services and code enforcement, expect the Web site to be up by April.

The office contracted with Memphis-based EnSafe, an environmental, management and information technology company that specializes in geographic information system consulting services.

Frank McInturff of EnSafe, who managed the development of the city/county planning divisions Web site, said the project is at the discovery stage and over the next few months, EnSafe will work with local government staff members to create a site that gives users 24-hour access to all sectors of the division.

Theyve got a great initiative going on. Its more than just building the Web site. Theyre looking to build government to be more connected and to build a venue for communicating to all their customers, McInturff said.

The goal is to automate some of the processes traditionally done in paper form, he said.

Right now this would be the first phase of a growing, living Web site that includes not only the Internet side of it, but also the internal side, he said. Theyve got a lot of resources they would like to share. One of the big ones is GIS Web-based Internet mapping and visualization of their data.

Land use controls deputy director Mary Baker said with the name of an applicant, the location of a proposed zoning change or a case number, users can search for data formerly available only by phone.

For example, our application forms and the instructions will be on there. Youll be able to download those so that you can use them to file an application, she said.

The Web site will include hearing and meeting schedules, as well as agendas.

Well also have hearing summaries, which will include what happened on those cases, she said.

Baker said initially, staff members will work with the public to teach them how to use the Web site.

Our long-range goal is that once they do get to the point where they know how to use it, then we will get fewer of the calls for things that people can easily look up for themselves, she said.

One of the sites newest features is the interactive GIS maps.

Users can go to the location on the map and that will take them to any application that has been filed that is under review in this office, Baker said.

Carter Gray, regional services administrator, is anxious for the Web site to begin operation.

Regional services is primarily a transportation-related organization, he said. It really involves a lot of different members, both government and private. So, there are several aspects of the Web site Im really interested in.

One is to promote communication among transportation policymakers throughout the region. Another is to provide to those decision-makers and the public another means of accessing policy issues, questions that come up before the regional transportation board, agendas, minutes, maps of various road projects.

The publics interactive use of GIS maps is an important factor in the new Web site, he said.

We think when you talk about governmental jurisdiction, the visual aspect of it really enhances the understanding. I really think the maps and their depth of information would make something thats been somewhat cloudy become very clear, he said.

Since his department is regional in focus, Gray believes the publics ability to interact with his staff from a remote location is key to the sites success.

Since our planning area includes both DeSoto County, Fayette County and Shelby County, were a little unique in that were not all one governmental agency. We have all the municipalities and all the county agencies in that region that participate in that aspect of the program.

Not everybody can come down to my office and look at plans and see where that roads going to come through or not come through and see what it looks like. We hope to provide that map and those pictures to those various sites and make it more effective, he said.

Doris Alston, deputy administrator with the divisions construction code enforcement department, said when the new site goes up, it should make applying for permits and checking inspections easier. Code enforcement is responsible for permits in Shelby County, Memphis, Germantown, Arlington and Lakeland.

Alston, a longtime county employee, appreciates the difference between traditional methods and what the new Web site will be able to achieve.

The Web site will help us get our information out so people can know a little bit more about what we do, she said. They will be able to apply for permits through the Web site. The contractors will be able to check their inspections eventually, and just a number of things that will make things a little easier than they are right now.

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