Queensbury Geospatial: A Model for NYS Town Government GIS

Northbound New York State Northway Exit 20 leads to the Town of Queensbury which is the seat of Warren County.  With a 2010 population of 27,901 the town covers nearly 65-square miles including shoreline along Lake George and lands within the Adirondack Park.  Further into town, several of the usual NYS town government program offices are located at 742 Bay Road including staff and resources which support the town’s geographic information system (GIS).

GIS Background

Prior to 2002, Queensbury officials had worked with consultants to establish initial GIS capacity including the creation of ArcIMS applications and investing in multiple ESRI desktop licenses.  In 2002, the town’s GIS initiative changed significantly with the hiring of George Hilton.  Hired as a GIS Specialist and planner, George was brought onboard to build and advance the town’s  GIS program.

Prior to arriving in Queensbury, George had honed his GIS skills while a student at Central Connecticut State University and later in government positions  in the Denver and Kansas City areas as well as three years with Westchester County.  Now, 15-years after his arrival, George oversees a program which can be considered an exemplary NYS municipal government GIS program.

Current Queensbury Geospatial Products and Infrastructure        

George designs, codes and maintains the Town’s Interactive Mapper (Firefox and IE only) and a host of other ArcGIS.com map viewers including Fire and EMS, Planning and Zoning, and Phase II Stormwater Infrastructure.    He also supports emerging mobile mapping and data collection efforts which includes Trimble GPS units with Trimble Positions to collect data and update feature services and Geodatabases in the field.  The town also collects data (hydrant inspections, site inspections) with ArcGIS Collector using feature services and make maps available through ArcGIS Online.

The Town of Queensbury Interactive Mapper includes many locally developed datasets as well as data from other authoritative sources including Warren County, NewYork State and the Adirondack Park Agency.

The Town of Queensbury Interactive Mapper includes many locally developed datasets as well as data from other authoritative sources including Warren County, NewYork State and the Adirondack Park Agency.

Other software components – much of which has been self-taught – George uses inlcludes Sybase (RPS) and SQL Server with ArcSDE as well as ArcGIS Server, ArcSDE, ArcGIS (Advanced), and Spatial Analyst.  The town is currently at ArcGIS Server 10.22 and are testing 10.4 with plans to upgrade very soon.  He also works with QGIS and Global Mapper from time to time.  Global Mapper has been particularly helpful in importing updated USGS topo quads (DRGs) in GeoPDF format into our GIS.

The Queensbury GIS program has grown from primarily providing support to the Planning Department to becoming a very important resource for many departments across town government.  Both the Town Board and Town Supervisor are very supportive of GIS and recognize how much of an important tool GIS has become to the Town.

Parts of the Town of Queensbury is actually within the Adirondack Park and therefore subject to stringent land use regulations. This image highlights zoning districts on the southeastern shore of Lake George – within the park boundaries.

Parts of the Town of Queensbury is actually within the Adirondack Park and therefore subject to stringent land use regulations. This image highlights zoning districts on the southeastern shore of Lake George – within the park boundaries.

George maintains an excellent working relationship with Warren County GIS which is under the direction of Sara Frankenfeld where he obtains  parcel data.  The town creates town-wide datasets (zoning, subdivisions, hydrants, infrastructure, environmental, street centerlines, address points, etc) which are then shared back with the County. Referencing her ongoing GIS work with Queensbury, Sara explains:

“George is great to work with and especially in a rural environment where we don’t have any other full-time GIS staff within our respective local governments, it’s so helpful to have a colleague to bounce things off.  He’s a very good sounding board and when I’m considering starting a new project, I often call to get his thoughts.

 We’ve worked closely together on a number of projects.  We recently worked together to streamline the way e-911 addresses are assigned, and this has been a huge improvement to workflows in both of our offices, as well as in the Real Property office, the zoning/building inspectors departments, and the assessors’ offices

 Our current cooperative project is a NYS Archives LGRMIF grant funded project to make the SAM data, along with information about truss roofed structures (as required by a NYS law that went into effect 1/1/2015), and other relevant data such as hydrant locations, available to first responders via an Android/iOS app”.

George also works closely with several state agencies including the Adirondack Park Agency, NYS Parks and Historic Preservation, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and NYS Information Technology Services (ITS).  Queensbury Town Supervisor John Strough adds:

“Like today’s computers, I do not know how we lived without him. His GIS services have helped us map the town’s infrastructure structures, trail systems, historic places and many other location details that we absolutely need to comply with the needs of today’s municipal world. I am in his office requesting his services almost as often as am in my budget officer’s office, that’s how important GIS services have become to the town.

Broad User Base

The town enjoys a wide user base including ESRI desktop clients in Planning, Water and Sewer, Assessor, and Parks departments though George is commonly called upon to assist in more detailed data creation, analysis, and cartographic products throughout town government.  He also provides training for users in many local, regional and statewide agencies including the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Champlain Watershed Improvement Coalition of New York, and the NY State Conservation District Association at their statewide conference in Auburn and Syracuse.

Additionally, George provides maps and data analysis for many community groups, nonprofits, schools, as well as for other municipalities and quasi-governmental agencies in the area.   Queensbury if one of the few municipalities in the area with a GIS program and is often asked to provide support throughout the area.

Creating More Queensbury GIS Programs

While George brought years of GIS experience to the town when accepting  the job, his ability to advance the town’s GIS program has certainly been augmented by ongoing political and administrative support.  Such combination of experience, competitive salary, technical skills and political support is often hard to replicate –   or even find for that matter –  in small town governments across the Empire State.

The Town of Queensbury GIS program speaks to the importance of educating elected officials in the benefits and  importance of investing – both financially and institutionally –  in the role of geospatial technologies in small town governance.  While the Queensbury GIS solution might be considered a typical for similar-sized communities across the state, it nonetheless can be a model for the GIS community to aspire to and replicate.

Visit the Town of Queensbury website at http://www.queensbury.net or George Hilton directly at GeorgeH@queensbury.net.

 

10 Questions: David Bubniak

I’ve been going back and forth with David Bubniak for several months on doing a piece on his geospatial work and efforts with the Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board (STC) where he has worked for over a decade.  Covering three counties – Chemung, Schuyler, and Steuben – David’s GIS work with STC covers many program areas. A lifelong Southern Tier resident, he and his wife and their two sons live in Waverly,  New York.  David can contacted at gisstc@stny.rr.com.

eSpatiallynewyork:  How long have you been with Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board (STC)?

Bubniak:  I   started at STC in 2005 and worked here for a year. I left and went to work for James Sewall in the Elmira office (formally Weiler Mapping). I then returned to STC in 2008 and have been here since. Prior to STC, I worked for the Chemung County Metropolitan Planning Office (MPO)  in the early 90’s as a transportation GIS analyst. I then became the General Manager of Chemung County Transit. I then went back to doing GIS in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania for Northern Tier Regional Planning.  A good friend of mine is a surveyor and I worked with him on the side periodically over the years doing property surveys, deed research and construction layouts.  Those experiences have helped me significantly over the years understanding how to assist people with GIS. I am the only designated GIS person in STC office though we do have planners that use it often.

eSpatiallynewyork:  When did you start doing GIS work?

Bubniak: I started using GIS in 1993. I attended Mansfield University and graduated with a Geography degree with an emphasis in Planning. We used Atlas GIS for projects. I worked part time at the Chemung County Planning department right after I graduated in December 1994.  My first project was mapping senior citizen migration from rural areas back into the City of Elmira for the Department of Aging. When I started at the Executive Transportation Committee for Chemung County (Chemung County MPO) in 1995 I used Unix based  pcARC/INFO and AutoCad. I taught myself how to use both just by studying the manuals and using them for projects. I then started to use ArcView when it was released.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What GIS products do you now use/promote? 

Bubniak:  I use both web and desktop applications. I use ArcGIS server as well as ArcGIS online for my web apps. I do promote both web and desktop apps. I have people using ArcView, ArcReader and ArcGIS Explorer.  I have the Elmira Water Board using ArcGIS desktop with several departments accessing data over their network using ArcGIS Explorer (desktop). The Chemung County Stormwater Coalition uses a combination of ArcGIS online, local data, and data through ArcGIS server.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What agencies/organizations do you work with most closely?

Bubniak:  I do a lot of work for Chemung County departments and towns. I do get involved with the state from time to time. I function sort of as the GIS coordinator for Chemung County but not on formal basis. I work with the Stormwater Coalition, public works, Elmira Water Board, Real Property. I do work and assist several of the bigger towns in the county.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Tell us about the “Southern Tier Central Mapping Application for Local Governments”

Bubniak:  I have four basic parcel viewers. I have one for each county then one for the whole region. They all run the same data from a SQL database.  Chemung and Schuyler Counties connect their county sites to their SDG Imagemate Online application.  I have a Chemung County site tailored to soil and water, Public works and local code officials.  Many county departments and officials use it for their GIS. I have a bunch of project specific web apps I built using ArcGIS for Flash and Silverlight including one for the Keuka Lake Watershed,  a planning tool, and the Susquehanna-Chemung Action Plan.  Those apps utilize other public services and data to cover the whole area. It really depends on the application and the need.

eSpatiallynewyork:  In your capacity with STC, what professions do you work with the most on a day-to-day basis? 

Bubniak:  In addition to my daily responsibilities with TC, I work with several other (government, county, local governments, nonprofits, what?) disciplines including engineering, public works, planning/economic development,  transportation, code enforcement and emergency services.   In many respects and functions I serve as a GIS consultant (though not paid as one) to many organizations and governments across the three county region.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Making maps anymore or is everything online now?

Bubniak:  Mostly everything has gone online, though I still make maps from time to time.  Well designed hard copy maps are always still needed for meetings and discussions.  There is no substitute.

eSpatiallynewyork: From your perspective and experience in the Southern Tier, do you think decision makers and elected officials value GIS technology as a necessity or a “nice to have”?

Bubniak:  For many years it was a “nice to have” and called a cool technology toy.   Though more recently the culture and understanding of geospatial technology has changed within government and among elected officials to considering it much more as a “necessary” tool.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Assuming money and administrative support were in place, what are a couple cost effective (and needed) geospatial applications which you feel STC could develop and available for the three county area?

I would like to have an application or applications similar to how the Town of Southampton, NY is making GIS services available on their website.  They have a fee-based viewer (ePortal).   for Land Manger GIS that was presented at the last New York State GIS Conference.

eSpatiallynewyork:  So what’s next?  What are you working on now?

Bubniak:  Chemung County has just purchased an ELA license from ESRI. I am going to be designing, building multi-user databases and setting up applications for the county. We are going to be implementing a true enterprise system and get away from our current departmentalized GIS systems.

I am currently working on an application to allow  Elmira City Council members to report issues they want resolved. This will be done on tablets and cut out a huge amount of paper work and will bring in a geospatial component at the same time.

Eventually we plan on getting social services involved.   Once we get this off the ground and get things going we are going to look how to improve services in this area of government.  While at Sewall we designed a web application for social services to locate day cares, employers, transit routes and client locations which I believe has potential for regional and county governments.

 eSpatiallynewyork:  So what are you doing when you are not working?

Bubniak:  For many years I competed in power lifting but hurt my shoulder and don’t participate anymore.   I enjoy the outdoors and hunt.    We bought a starter home  many years ago and since then I’ve completely redone the house doing all of the plumbing, electrical, drywall, flooring, etc., myself.    It’s a great location on a dead end road and we own 40 acres.

Both of our boys – ages 9 and 14 – are involved in travel sports (baseball, track/cross country, Tae Kwon Do) so following them around to games and practices is one of our main “hobbies” now – which is all worth it.

10 (Almost) Questions: Todd Fabozzi

Todd Fabozzi is an urbanist, writer, teacher and drummer. During his twenty-two-year career as a regional planner he has been an advocate for cities and sustainable design. He has lectured extensively on suburban sprawl and its consequences and has been involved in numerous urban planning, climate action planning, and watershed protection studies. Todd is an expert on the use of Geographic Information Systems and has taught a course on GIS at UAlbany for the past thirteen years. Todd has also published two books of poems and anti-poems. He lives in the city of Saratoga Springs, NY.

I caught up with Todd at NYGeoCon for a short discussion on life and GIS….

eSpatiallynewyork:  How long have you been with the Capital District Regional Planning Commission (CDRPC)?

Todd:  I’ve been a professional urbanist for the past twenty-two years, twenty of which have been with CDRPC.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What’s one of the best examples of how GIS is used in your organization?

Todd:  I was charged with building the Commission’s GIS back in 1996. One of the first products from that effort was a regional atlas, which we published in oversized hard copy format (this was still pretty much pre-internet). The maps portrayed a whole variety of characteristics at the regional scale, giving the public a bird’s eye view of the spatial patterns of the Capital District for the first time. In addition to applying GIS in most of our program areas, I continue to create, update and publish regional maps (see www.cdrpc.org). I think understanding regional demographic, environmental and land use patterns is central to regional planning and GIS is the best tool for doing so.

eSpatiallynewyork: What professional associations or groups are you affiliated with?

Todd: Over the years I’ve tried out the American Planning Association, the Association of American Geographers, Progressive Planners Network, Congress for New Urbanism, and the NYS GIS Association. I also served for nine years on the NYS GeoSpatial Advisory Council. While for the most part I support the work of these groups, I’m currently unaffiliated (though with CNU and NYSGISA, it’s simply because I haven’t gotten around to renewing). I have to say though that in general I’m not a joiner, perhaps the anarchist in me keeps me at arm’s length from groups and group think.

eSpatiallynewyork:  If you had an extra $50K in your budget, what would you do with it?

Todd:  If it was a yearly allocation I would establish two part-time paid internship positions. CDRPC has been working on a climate and energy issues over the past few years and there are some interesting ways that GIS can be applied. So for example, a good intern project might be to identify (by analyzing the utility zones, solar orientation, area requirements, land uses and zoning laws) the places where community distributed solar might be feasible (community distributed solar allows one to receive solar energy from an offsite location).

eSpatiallynewyork:  Biggest professional accomplishment?

Todd:  Using GIS, imagery analysis and photography to document and portray sprawl and urban decline in the Capital District and through over two hundred presentations inciting a regional conversation on these issues back when it was politically and professionally risky to do so. This was the same presentation I made at the first NYS GeoSpatial Summit in 2006. http://www.nysgis.net/nygeosummit/year/2006/speakers.htm

eSpatiallynewyork:  What do you think of GISP certification?

Todd:  I don’t. I’m not concerned with merit badges. I’d rather let mapping do the talking.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Open Source or ESRI?

Todd:  We’re an ESRI shop but I’m open to whatever works best in a given situation…and the lower the cost the better.

eSpatiallynewyork:   If you could change one thing here in New York that you feel would make GIS more widely used, or more appreciated and understood – what would that be?

Todd:  Start teaching kids how to use GIS as part of the middle and high school curriculum.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What advice would you give to the next generation of individuals starting a career in GIS here in New York State?

Todd:  I’ve been teaching an Intro to GIS course at UAlbany for the past thirteen years and I think I counted seven different people at the most recent NYGeoCon that had taken my course and were now working professionally in NYS using GIS, which is satisfying. I reinforce to my students that GIS is a tool for something else, so get knowledgeable about something else, and then use GIS to help.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Any thoughts on the future of government GIS in the State of New York?

Todd:  There’s not much that state and local governments do that doesn’t have a spatial component, so the more we integrate GIS into government operations the more efficient those operations will be. I’ve heard you sing the gospel of web services for data delivery and I get that and think that is largely the direction things will head. Web-accessible GIS for basic tasks will also continue to proliferate, though there will still be a role for the desktop user with the full suite of tools at their disposal. I saw a presentation at the recent NYGeoCon about the City of Rochester’s various GIS applications that I found quite inspiring and think they’re setting an example of how GIS can be used in local government.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What would you be doing if you weren’t working with CDRPC?

Todd:  Assuming I was retired and didn’t have to earn a living I’d be playing my drums, writing, and traveling.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Your band is in the studio working on its 11th album – what can you tell us about it? 

Todd: Well, as some of my planning and GIS colleagues know, I’m also a professional drummer, and over the past eighteen years I’ve been the conga player for a twelve-piece original salsa band called Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra. It’s a fun alternative to the office. We get to make people smile and dance, which isn’t something urban planning usually accomplishes. We did a ten-day tour of Shanghai, China this past March, which was a high point for us. And as you noted, we are currently in the studio working on our 11th album. We’ve been in the early rounds of the Latin Grammy’s with a few of our past records. Maybe this will be the one in which we nail it? For anyone interested in the band see: www.alextorres.com.