Friday, May 28, 2010

The Town of Tiverton Goes Digital

Tiverton Planning Department
346 Judson Street • Tiverton, Rhode Island 02878
(401) 816-0494

January 11, 2010

The Town of Tiverton Goes Digital
Geographic Information System Provides
24/7 Access to Parcel Information

The Town of Tiverton recently completed and implemented a town-wide Geographic Information System (GIS), a project made possible through a $54K Statewide Planning Challenge Grant. Matching funds from the Town, as well as in-kind services were utilized to undertake this $84K initiative that included digitizing the Town’s seventy (70) tax maps and more than 8,000 parcels, importing the tax assessor data as well as other local and state data layers, and the creation of a web site to allow for public access to parcel and property information.

In its simplest terms, as Tiverton’s Town Planner Christopher Spencer explained, a Geographic Information System is the merger of maps and data—whereby data, which might otherwise be available only in a table or spreadsheet, can be represented graphically and tied to geographic coordinates on a map. The ability to represent and examine this information spatially, Mr. Spencer went on to say, “allows for complex data to be analyzed quickly, providing insight and revealing otherwise hidden patterns, relationships, or trends”.

The applications for GIS are countless and far reaching as Mr. Spencer outlined. In many communities, police departments utilize GIS for crime mapping and analysis—leading to better patrolling and deployment; fire departments utilize GIS for hydrant locations, E-911 property locations, and to analyze populations, call loads and other information that can improve deployment and assist in planning for the location of future facilities; sewer and water departments utilize GIS for complex mapping of facilities, to analyze repairs, re-route water lines, and plan for facilities expansion based on population growth and density; economic development agencies utilize GIS to map all existing business as well as vacant buildings, parcels or other potential economic development opportunities; and planning departments utilize GIS to help direct growth to areas where infrastructure is available and away from areas where natural constraints such as wetlands, poor soils, or steep slopes could cause future problems.

Recently, Mike Blake and Michelle Giorgianni of Applied Geographics, Inc (the company behind Tiverton’s new GIS) gave a demonstration at a Tiverton Town Council meeting. During this presentation, they highlighted some of the tools available to the public through the new GIS website and demonstrated some uses for the software that a few of the Town departments have purchased.

Public Access and Web Interface
Prior to the implementation of the GIS, if a property owner was doing an addition on their house or something that required a zoning variance and therefore notification of all abutting property owners, they would have to go to the tax assessor’s office, find their parcel on one of the seventy (70) paper maps, and scale-off the map or maps to see which properties fell within 200 feet. Once they determined which properties were within 200 feet, they would need to compile a list of all of the parcel ID’s that are tied to those properties. Finally, they would look up all of the parcel IDs in the tax assessor’s data base, and write down all of the names and addresses of the abutting property owners. All of this could take several hours and could only be done during normal Town Hall operating hours.

With the new GIS web interface, a simple property search can now be conducted by parcel ID, owner’s last name, or property address. Once the search is complete, which takes just a few seconds, the user can click on the “Abutters” tab. This option will produce a map that graphically represents and color codes all abutters within a 200 feet of the primary parcel. The user can customize this map, adding additional information from available layers which can be turned on or off. This map can be saved as a PDF for printing or emailing. An additional option is available to save the list all of the abutting property owners, as well as their mailing addresses either as a PDF formated for printing Avery Address Labels or in a Microsoft Excel format. Rather than taking hours, and perhaps countless trips to town hall, all of this can be accomplished in minutes, and can be done at any time from a home computer or laptop.

Software Applications
During the Town Council presentation, Mr. Blake and Ms. Giorgianni demonstrated few simple GIS queries. A query, in this case, is a statement expressing a set of conditions that forms the basis for the retrieval of information from a database. The first query they demonstrated was structured to show all properties that are within the R-30 zoning district. (The R-30 designation comes from the requirements from that district—Residential parcels with a minimum area of 30,000 square feet). The second query was structured to find all parcels within that district that were less than 30,000 SF in area, thus not meeting the dimensional requirements for the district. The result was a map which showed that 95% of the parcels in that district do not meet the minimum area requirements, and are therefore dimensionally non-conforming.

One of the first projects that the Planning Department will be undertaking with this new analytical tool involves an examination of the underlying dimensional zoning and the scope of the non-conforming properties. The graphic representation of the data from this study will help provide the basis for recommendations for new zoning designations that match the existing conditions such as parcel sizes, thereby reducing the number and frequency of dimensional variances that might otherwise be required. Ultimately, this has the potential to save property owners and the town time and money. Both commodities, which always seem to be in short supply.

A link to the Town’s Geographic Information System is available on the Town’s website under Quick Links / New Online Property Viewer. The address for the Town’s website is:

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If you have any questions or would like more information about Tiverton’s new Geographic Information, please email Chris Spencer at or call (401) 816-0494.

“This project was supported by the Rhode Island Statewide Planning Program with
funding provided by the US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway


Rhode Island Division of Planning
One Capitol Hill / 3rd Floor
Providence, Rhode Island 02908

U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Ave SE
Washington, DC 20590

U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Transit Administration
East Building, 4th Floor
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

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