The WPCOG planning staff engages in two basic types of land-use planning for local governments in the Western Piedmont: current planning and long-range planning. COG planners have expertise in local, county and regional planning.
On a contractual basis, planning staff advises local governments on current planning issues such as zoning, annexation, ordinance revisions and related land-use issues. In areas such as the environment, transportation, and strategic planning, WPCOG planning staff draws from staff expertise to assist local governments as requested.
WPCOG planners also team with citizens and staff from the Western Piedmont local governments to facilitate long-range planning. Long-range planning explores issues of growth and proposes policy recommendations for governing bodies to help deal with development pressures as the region changes from rural to more urban land uses. Recent examples of such projects include comprehensive plans for local jurisdictions, small area planning in multiple districts in Burke, Caldwell and Catawba Counties, and strategic planning on a regional level.
Community & Regional Planning/
COG planning staff focuses on five main areas, Local Assistance, Long-Range, Transportation and Environmental Planning and Data Services.
Local Assistance Planning has been a primary function of the Planning Department for many years. COG planners are contracted with local governments who may not need the services of a full-time planning department. By contracting with COG these governments not only gain valuable expertise from a number of staff, they also have GIS and other services available to help their planning needs.
Long Range Planning consists of two types, Comprehensive Plans and Small Area Plans. Comprehensive Plans are the backbone of land-use policies and decisions. According to North Carolina General Statutes, every local government must base its zoning decisions on a long-range plan that describes policies for land-use and growth management issues. Each Comprehensive Plan will look at growth strategies in several areas that could impact decisions of current and future planning documents. Land-use, transportation, economic development, infrastructure and parks and recreation are just a few of the areas that a Comprehensive Plan can address. Small Area Plans are typically focused on communities within a jurisdiction that want to address growth strategies in a more specified area. Like Comprehensive Plans, these plans address the same issues but the policies are designed for the specific community and are then included in a larger plan for the entire jurisdiction.
Transportation Planning is also a key component of the Planning Department. Designated as the Lead Planning Agency for the Greater Hickory Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the MPO is responsible for developing the Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP). The WPCOG is the primary local recipient of transportation planning funds received from the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the US Department of Transportation. Transportation planners also work with the regional transit authority providing staff to assist in meeting facilitation and administration of grant funds.
Environmental Planning consists of staffing regional air and water committees, drafting and implementing air quality and watershed and source water plans. Staff also conducts and participates in several educational outreach programs throughout the year. Their primary focus is the annual Western North Carolina Air and Water Quality Conference held each summer.
Data Services provides assistance in locating and analyzing demographic and economic data for local governments, nonprofits and the private sector. As one of the 16 regional affiliates in the North Carolina Data Center network, WPCOG Data Services staff also produces specialized data products including community assessments, economic indicators newsletters, industry growth analysis, and student growth estimation models.
Planning staff also provides strategic planning guidance and project facilitation for local governments desiring a focused look at options for growth in the next decade or so. Working with citizen committees, COG planners facilitate the discussion process, producing a set of strategies designed to position local governments to capitalize on opportunities and offset challenges in coming years.