The town of Cary, North Carolina (population 94,536) has launched a new web tool called “VIP”, for Virtual Interactive Planner.  The town’s development process had become overbearingly complex, and town government was forced to field questions from citizens and developers alike.  According to Dan Matthys, Communications and Information Planner in Cary, “it wasn’t clear to our citizens when they had a chance to speak and when they didn’t have a chance, how long the process was or what the different steps are to that process.” So, the mayor of Cary asked the Planning Department to come up with a solution.  The VIP tool takes you through a “development adventure” where potential developers (or involved citizens) can enter a property address and view local zoning and land use approvals and select a project type (commercial, industrial, public/institutional, or residential).  The tool then takes you to a flash-based interactive image of the property and informs you of the steps you’ll need to take to get your development project approved.

Overall, the tool seemed a bit heavy-weight for my taste; however, it seems to have succeeded in making clear the development process.  “It’s … increased the efficiency in our department because it has reduced the number of phone calls we’re getting that could be answered by something on the computer.”  Other cities trying to implement their model should note that 97% of Cary residents have computers and internet access and overall the population is very educated with three major universities nearby.