When companies desert large, congested metropolitan areas for open space and the eager workforce of depressed rural areas, their impact is fairly predictable -- population growth, accelerated development, rising property values, expanded infrastructure and increased demand for government services. As the economy of the area grows, nearby townships are confronted with planning requirements for new subdivisions, land-use applications, property-owner notifications and the need for updated infrastructure data. For municipalities with limited resources, the demands can be overwhelming.

Wellington, Colo., a one-square-mile Ft. Collins suburb of 2,100 residents, recently faced a similar situation. In the mid-1990s, high-tech firms and other industries moving to Ft. Collins generated employment opportunities and revitalized a stagnant economy. As more people moved into the area and new subdivisions sprang up, the agricultural township of Wellington was quickly transformed into a bedroom community with a growing appetite for municipal services. As a result, the town's limited resources and full-time staff of eight were soon stretched to their limits.

GIS Integration

Town Administrator Kevin Burke explained that, as a result of the economic downturn in the mid-1980s Wellington had much open land and numerous lots that had not been developed. "Land already platted for subdivision had sat vacant for years. By 1996, though, we had people wanting to make improvements to those lots, get variances, land-use changes and construction permits."

Burke pointed out that under state law, Wellington is required to notify all property owners of proposed land-use changes within 150 feet of their property line. Since the town did not have GIS capability, the notification process was very labor-intensive.

The cadastral data and plat maps needed to process property-owner notifications are in databases maintained by the county assessor and the GIS division, located in Ft. Collins. From the maps, Wellington's staff determined the number of lots affected, recorded the legal description of each, then searched the tax records for the names and addresses of the legal owners. For the mailing addresses of property owners with only P.O. boxes, they had to go to the town's water records, and for data and maps of the town's sewer and water infrastructure, to Wellington's public works office.

The maps were on Mylar, and much of the information about the system was incomplete. According to Burke, the whole process -- collecting all the data, maps and addresses, transferring everything to paper, generating a merge file, then creating a mailing and sending it out -- took two or three days.

To handle all of this efficiently, Wellington needed a GIS. The town's annual budget of $675,000 largely decided the course of action. Meeting with the township's six trustees, Burke presented a program to speed up processing and provide better access to cadastral data, town maps and infrastructure without capital investment in an expensive system and a $60,000-a-year technician.

Burke proposed farming out data processing to a GIS consulting firm that would collect the necessary maps, tables and data, process them into a single format, and download them to an affordable desktop GIS. With the smaller, easier-to-use system, the town could carry out the specific steps of putting together property-owner notifications, generating maps and tracking infrastructure. The consultant would then update all data biannually.

Enter the Consultants

Following development of project specifications, trustee approval and an RFP, Wellington selected Denver geotechnology consultants Ternary Spatial Research (TSR) for the project. The Larimer County assessor provided TSR with parcel data on a CD-ROM, in drawing exchange format (DFX). The GIS Division provided plat maps, and Wellington's public works office supplied maps of the town's water and sewer lines.

Using ArcInfo GIS, TSR translated the assessor's parcel information into a data layer of polygons with real-world coordinates, digitized the Mylar maps and drawings of the sewer and water system as another layer, then integrated the