Cumberland Times-News

Local News

May 29, 2011

Planning 2.0 about open government

CUMBERLAND — Participating in the Allegany County planning process is now as simple as a few mouse clicks and keystrokes. The website, called Planning 2.0, uses an interface similar to Google Maps.

“We have designed the interface to be relatively simple and straightforward”, said Elizabeth Stahlman, GIS manager for Allegany County who developed the site.

The site is free. The 2.0 comes from a term coined some time ago to express open government, Government 2.0, so Stahlman thought that would be a good take for an open planning process.

While you can quickly find your own property and the current and future land uses, citizens can comment on any property and planned land uses. A few areas in the Eastern part of the county don’t have future land use plans available yet.

Citizen comments are entered in a pop-up box and once you enter a name, email address and/or phone number, your comment is locked down and visible only to county planning staff and GIS staff. Staff can view the comment and are prompted to respond, typically within 5-10 working days.

If a citizen has entered an email address, staff will usually respond via email, Stahlman said. Anonymous comments are possible, but the planning department will have no way to follow up with a citizen who leaves an anonymous comment, Stahlman said. The comments will help guide the comprehensive rezoning process underway in the county, Stahlman said.

“It’s an easy way to have input,” Stahlman said. “We wanted to streamline the comment process and make it easier for the public and staff,” Stahlman said. There were challenges since the technology that made the site possible was new,” said Gregory Hildreth, a GIS specialist for the county.

While the county GIS office developed the application, the planning department provided the land use information and reviews comments. Stahlman credited Hildreth with helping in development of the program.

The mapping was developed using various sources, including aerial photography, information from the state assessment office and field verification.

It took about a year from the concept of the program to making it operational. Stahlman knew it had a go from county commissioners who are committed to public participation and involvement, including use of the latest technology to make citizen involvement convenient.

A good point of entry into the system is to search using your address or property I.D from your tax account, Stahlman said. You can also zoom in and out of the maps. The site is for land use related comments, Planning 2.0 isn’t the place to file a junk complaint or a general comment for commissioners, Stahlman said.

 The site is live now and requires an Internet connection and Adobe Flashplayer 10.0 or better, Stahlman said. Users may need to allow pop-up windows since a pop-up window is used to input comments.

Planning 2.0 is gaining recognition beyond the Allegany County line. Stahlman has had inquiries from state and county government officials about the program. Esri, the major company which develops GIS mapping software, likes Planning 2.0 and plans to highlight the site in its own press releases.

Citizens can access Planning 2.0 at http://arcgis.allconet.org/planning/index.html or from the county Planning Services homepage.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com

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