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Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: Seattle Database For Tracking Building & Land Use Permitting

by April 21st, 2010

Here’s the audio file of my latest regular weekly appearance as the Public Data Ferret, on KOMO 1000 AM/97.7 FM with “Nine2Noon” show co-anchors Brian Calvert and Nancy Barrick. Our topic today was how citizens, advocates and community journalists can use an information-rich and customizable City of Seattle online database and mapping tool to track building and land use permit activity, and report on or add their voices to the decision-making process. Here’s the original Ferret write-up including related links, posted at the Public Data Ferret hub – that’s our own special searchable database of neutral, blogged synopses of important public documents, databases and data sets. And here’s the full transcript of today’s Ferret radio segment.

Co-anchor Brian Calvert: “Lots of people in the Capitol Hill neighborhood waking up to news this morning that their neighborhood is going to be a lot louder because of a Sound Transit construction project, especially in the first parts of next year, and there’s not a whole lot they can do about it because the city’s signed off on it. But have you ever wanted to find out more about what’s being built in your neighborhood, perhaps before the bad news is leveled, before it’s too late and you can’t do anything about it? Matt Rosenberg, the Public Data Ferret at, joins us. Matt, you actually came across an online database and mapping tool that helps us figure out what’s going on in our neighborhoods, right?”

Matt Rosenberg: “That’s correct. The Seattle Department of Planning and Development has an absolutely great database and mapping tool called the Activity Locator, and it can let you get a real jump on what’s going on in your neighborhood.”

Co-anchor Nancy Barrick: “And I see these signs every so often, the land use action, always wondering, does anyone listen if I care to make a comment about this?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well they really do. There’s a pretty robust public participation process, but you do have to get keyed in. The city issues about 6,000 building permits a year, for property improvements valued at $2 billion, that was last year, in ’09. But you know, there’s a real balancing act involving economic interests plus concerns we all have about the environment, aesthetics, and traffic congestion. So, the permit Activity Locator, at the department’s site, makes it easy. What you do is, you go right in there and you can start looking at a lot of things real fast. You might want to check out how many multi-family residential developments have been approved in Seattle or in your slice of Seattle in the last few years. You might want to look at pending permit applications for major commercial or mixed-use projects in your neighborhood’s business district. There’s just a whole world of stuff there and you can just jump right in. And then, the key piece, Brian and Nancy, is that you can drill down. For each project, you can actually look at a permit summary, and see what’s being proposed, what’s happened so far – what the permitting history is, who the owner is, and even their address.”

Brian Calvert: “I would imagine, Matt, not only is this handy for people who live in the affected area currently, but if you’re thinking about buying property, or maybe you’re a business owner and you’re about to lease some office space, this might be great information to have before you make the commitment, right?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Totally. It’s very customizable, too, which is important for folks these days when they’re using online resources. So, you may want to get a feel for what other sorts of commercial and mixed-use projects are going on. You might be an environmental advocate and want to take a look a how much high-density development is really occurring, and where, and is it near transit stops, for instance. You might just be concerned about whether there are, you know, more town home developments going in, because you’ve got a bone to pick with all the traffic that seems to result from them. Or you might think that’s a good thing, and want to see what kind of progress the city is making in that area.”

Nancy Barrick: “Alright. Good stuff. Matt Rosenberg, the Public Data Ferret, at

RELATED: KOMO-AM 1000 broadcasts are live-streamed here.