Meet Crestview cartographer Nick Schwendt

‘The process made it more logical’

Brian Hughes | Special to the News Bulletin/USA TODAY NETWORK

CRESTVIEW — Residents and developers poring over the online city maps on Crestview’s website can rely on them being up to date in the accuracy of both zoning and city boundaries thanks to a 2015 Crestview High School graduate.

Crestview’s geographic information systems mapping specialist Nick Schwendt spent a substantial part of 2020 helping update the city’s zoning map, future land use map, and zoning code.

Similarly, when city employees need to check a boundary, get a detailed aerial view of a part of town and find sometimes obscure geographical data, they turn to the same source: GIS mapping specialist Nick Schwendt.

Going into the sometimes exciting, sometimes complicated world of geographic information systems was not Schwendt's intent, but sometimes life’s circumstances provide the nudge we need to find our niche.

For Schwendt, it was the impending marriage to his high school sweetheart, Jordyn.

Becoming a GIS specialist was not even on his radar.

“Not at all,” he said. “I just went to college and just went to work afterward, and not to get into a career. But then I was getting married and needed money. And then I found it was fun.”

Planted behind three monitors in his City Hall office, GIS mapping specialist Nick Schwendt pores over the city’s maps.

He found a job working for the city of Fort Walton Beach as a GIS analyst, a position he got thanks to having taken AutoCAD and Autodesk Inventor certification classes at Crestview High through the vo-tech CHOICE program, and thus beat out another candidate.

“I got it because I knew AutoCAD and the other guy didn’t,” Schwendt said. “That gave me some leverage to get the job in Fort Walton.”

When a similar position became available in Crestview, Schwendt by then had the experience crucial to the job and welcomed the chance to work in his hometown.

“It was a logical move to work up here instead of down there,” he said. “Before I was in the car for an hour and a half every day. Now I’m in the car for 10 minutes every day.”

While 2020 saw the pace of many businesses slow down, that was not the case in Crestview’s Community Development Services department. Schwendt and his colleagues undertook one of the department’s biggest comprehensive overhauls in its history.

“Most of last year, there were three big things we did, all at the same time: updating the zoning map, updating the future land use map, and updating the zoning code,” he said. “It was one of those things where we couldn’t do one without doing the others.”

The process corrected some previous zoning errors, updated revisions that had been made over the years and provided a comprehensive, complete overhaul of maps that had been tweaked and tinkered with over several decades.

“For planning in general, there’s a lot of zoning where people said, ‘Why was it zoned this way?’ It wasn’t very user friendly, or it didn’t make sense,” Schwendt said. “The revision process made it more logical for both us in CDS and our customers.”

Historic Crestview maps, such as this one from 1953, line GIS mapping specialist Nick Schwendt’s office.

Today, the city’s zoning code and its map — both available on the city’s website, — are kept current.

While mapmaking has become Nick’s unexpected vocation, Crestview and Okaloosa County history — and old maps of both — are a passion. He’s been a guest on CivicView, the city’s weekly podcast, discussing the city’s growth. His office in City Hall is plastered with old maps.

While history may be his passion, “my hobby is music,” he said.

“I’ve played almost every instrument over the last seven or eight years. I enjoy recording music,” Schwendt said. “In high school I was in the (Big Red Machine) jazz band and wind ensemble. We didn’t have a string section but I was the double-bass player, so I played the one stringed instrument in the jazz ensemble.”

There was one minor issue with Nick’s career with the Big Red Machine, however. He went into band not knowing how to read music…until he got caught!

“Yeah, they told me I had to learn to read music or I couldn’t be in band,” he said.

At home his instrument collection includes guitars, “a couple basses, and I just bought a piano, so I guess I need to learn to play it,” Nick said.

Between family — he and Jordyn added a son, River, to the Schwendt household in May 2020 — work, historic research, music and his new-found interest in photography, Crestview’s GIS specialist keeps busy. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.