Search Albany

search albany zoning map screenshot

The city's new zoning map as displayed through Search Albany.

The city of Albany unveiled a new online tool -- called Search Albany -- for accessing all sorts of info related to properties around the city Tuesday.

It's basically a map through which you can access details about individual properties -- such as the name of the owner -- as well as neighborhood-level info such as zoning districts and Common Council wards.

The best way to get a feel for it is to just play around with it, so go for it.

But here are also a few quick things about it...

It's relatively to easy use

A lot of the info accessible through Search Albany was already available online, you just had to know where and how to look. Putting it one spot makes it easier to find. And the application itself turns out easy-to-understand maps. (The application is via company called AppGeo, and cost the city about $15,000 according to city planning director Chris Spencer.)

In introducing the tool Tuesday, mayor Kathy Sheehan said the vast majority of the calls the city gets for info are requests for info related to specific properties. She said the goal for Search Albany is to provide a one-stop service so people can easily look up this sort of stuff themselves, saving time for both the people searching and city staff. (She said city staff will still be available to answer questions.)

It offers some ability to download info

For example: You can search properties by owner, so it's possible to look up all the properties in the city owned by the Albany County Land Bank. And once the list comes up, you can then download it as a spreadsheet or even as mailing labels.

Abutters

search albany abutters

The "abutters" feature looks potentially useful (it's under the tab that looks like three people on the right). It allows you to select a property, look up properties within some distance of that parcel, and then download the info tax ID and mailing address info for those properties.

That function will probably be of primary use for the city in sending out notices for various planning review items. But it also looks like it could be a way to reach out to neighbors if you're looking to organize something in your neighborhood -- example: looking up everyone who lives within 500 feet of a park.

There's probably more to come

Sheehan said Tuesday the ultimate goal is to make more information available via Search Albany, including records such as code enforcement actions and property tax status. (Albany already makes some of this sort of info available through the Open Albany public data portal.) And that could be potentially useful for people looking to better understand what's up in their neighborhood.

It might also take some time. Chris Spencer talked about some of the challenges in pulling all these bits together for Search Albany, an effort headed by planner Mary Millus. Adding new data can be a long process of figuring out how to access the data, clean it up, format it, and then make it work with the new system. That all times time and effort.

Distilling all this info

Providing a way to look all this sort of stuff parcel by parcel is good. But if you look a little farther out into the future, there might be possibilities for merging all this info in ways that give us a better sense of what's happening in the city.

For example: The relative health of neighborhoods is a frequent point of discussion. And that discussion often ends up with people asserting that a neighborhood is heading in a certain direction because of feel or perception or personal experience. And that's OK -- those can be valuable perspectives.

But it would also be helpful to be able to add something more specific to those sorts of discussions -- say, trends in home values, or crime reports, or code violations, recycling participation, or whatever. These sorts of metrics -- or even metrics created by blending them together -- won't be a definitive answer. Any sort of stat or algorithm should be taken with a grain of salt. But having those sorts of numbers -- especially ones that can be compared across different neighborhoods -- could be very helpful in getting a better sense of how things are going.

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