Member Spotlight

APA Virginia wants to hear from you! As in every community we plan, there are stories to its citizens. As a community of planners, we would like to highlight some of our amazing planners across the Commonwealth. What attracted you to the field of planning? What work do you do in the planning field? What is your favorite experience as a planner? What advice would you give a new or aspiring planner? If you or someone you know has a great planning story to tell, please reach out to our VP of Inclusion at

Previous Member Spotlights

Lauren Magnotto

Lauren Magnotto

Similar to most professional planners, my path to urban planning was not linear. In my undergraduate career at the University of Lynchburg, I studied environmental science, as I was really interested in the relationship between environmental integrity and economic development. It wasn’t until I took an introduction to GIS course that I formally caught the planning bug. My college professor, Dr. Perault, served on the local planning commission, so he invited me to attend a meeting. This meeting led to an internship, which led to a part time planning position— I was hooked. I was energized by the collaboration and vast range of topics involved in city planning. I quickly noticed that urban planning was incredibly intersectional.

After I graduated with my Bachelors, I immediately enrolled in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at the Virginia Commonwealth University (go rams!). At the time, I thought my space in the planning field was still in the sphere of economic development. However, through a fellowship with the Virginia Secretary of Transportation’s Office, I found public transportation, specifically transit, to be a perfect conglomeration of all my interests: economic development, sustainability, and the social fabric of communities. 

I used my time in graduate school to sharpen my planning mind. I appreciated the way planners approached problems; planners aren’t black-and-white thinkers and they recognize the complexities of their decisions. In 2019, I started researching transit equity.  Through my research, I stumbled upon a NYU Rudin Center report focused on the gender inequities of transit planning. I recognized that some infrastructure, systems, and operations were clearly not designed inclusively. I started absorbing all information on women reclaiming public spaces. I realized that women have a complicated relationship with urban space, which is impacted by an array of factors including safety concerns and caretaking responsibilities. I’ve always believed that planning efforts and planning staff should be representative of the community composition. This report showed that cities, specifically city’s public transit networks, still have a lot of work to do to be representative of the unique challenges and needs of their community. I believe the planning field needs to be committed to ensuring all community members, regardless of age, gender identity, race, and socioeconomic class, are heard and seen in their community and feel the same ownership of community resources and public space. 

In hindsight, I feel very fortunate that I was open to new opportunities and didn’t stick to the roadmap I made when I was younger. Currently, I serve as statewide program manager at the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. One of my main tasks is managing the Transit Ridership Incentive Program, a statewide grant program aimed at promoting regional connectivity and supporting the implementation of zero-fare and reduced-fare transit service. I am hoping to contribute to the betterment of my community, the greater transportation industry, and continue to be open and welcoming of the intrinsic complications of the planning field. 

Jacob Pastwik, AICP

Jacob Pastwik

I started employment as a Planner I in Long Range Planning in June 2007 with the Spotsylvania County, Virginia, Planning Department.  Currently, I hold the title Planner III also in Long Range Planning. I hold a Bachelor of Science degree with Urban and Regional Planning focus from Buffalo State College (SUNY) bestowed in 2003, and a Master of Urban Planning (MUP) from the University at Buffalo (SUNY) bestowed in 2006. AICP Certification was secured in 2014 and maintenance of APA Virginia membership and AICP certification has continued since that time.

As a long-range planner chief responsibilities include coordination of Zoning Code amendments, Comprehensive Plan update, Comprehensive Plan consistency analysis while considering rezoning and special use permit applications, development of other more specialized master plans, involvement in the County’s technical review committee, GIS mapping assistance. My responsibilities include guiding policy proposals and land use considerations through the public hearing process. Two notable long-range planning accomplishments as project lead include and development of the County’s first comprehensive Trailways Master Plan that was ultimately awarded APA Virginia’s 2011 Outstanding Plan Award for a Plan Element. I was fortunate enough to navigate the major update to the Spotsylvania Comprehensive Plan adopted in December 2021. 

I was born and raised in Western New York, my inspiration in community development and planning came from the surroundings there. I descend from generations of Polish, Slovak, and Italian immigrants who contributed to the historical heydays of Buffalo and Western New York during the Industrial Revolution and am a proud member of Buffalo’s Polonia community. 

As someone born in 1981, sadly Buffalo and the region continued to be in steep decline. The greatness of the past and standing as one of America’s powerhouse cities had been reduced in many ways to the shadow of past glory. The “greatest designed city” had become a “rustbelt town” and the butt of jokes. The physical impacts to the built environment and social implications of this decline were severe and hard to miss.  

I have seen “broken windows” play out in real life while whole neighborhoods withered away, populations left in poverty and the physical disrepair manifestations that resulted. Population losses in the City of Buffalo alone were in the hundreds of thousands.

As a lifelong Bills fan, I understand how a community rallies around their team and has a collective yearning to win as a region with “their team” after so many years of loss that stretches well beyond the football field. GO BILLS! I have seen the impacts of urban renewal without market demands to fill the spaces opened up for development leaving big holes in the community fabric where people and places once were. Singer/ song writer Ani Difranco captured the scene well in her lyrics in a song entitled “Subdivision”:

The ghost of old buildings are haunting 

Parking lots in the city of good neighbors that history forgot.  

I have witnessed the physical impacts to surrounding communities resulting from efficient yet extremely invasive 1950s era highway projects once romanticized as cutting edge and futuristic. I have seen what abandonment of the Erie Canal as a major shipping channel in favor of the St. Lawrence Seaway gutted the waterfront industries of old. The impacts were all part of my surroundings. Whether ultimately for good or bad, decisions made can have serious negative consequences on those communities left behind to deal with the fallout. How does a community get ahead of these challenges to reduce the damage? How does a community reinvent and recover? It’s important as a planner to look back to recognize what foundational aspects of planning in the real world tend to work, versus those things that may be viewed as mistakes now have not worked so as not to repeat history in negative ways. 

My grandparents were the primary driver for observing the built environment and considering the history and historic actions that had real impacts on the community. During the 1980s and 1990s, we would occasionally go on what they called “mystery rides” to view the old neighborhoods, the still functioning and the long-abandoned grain elevators, the lumber mills, husks of the former steel plants, and the former New York Central Rail Terminal on Buffalo’s east side, a 17-story art deco masterpiece left in tremendous decay; literally a tower of broken windows rising above equally degraded neighborhoods.  Those rides always left me wondering how and why did it get so bad and if there was so much life and activity back then why can’t it be again? 

Many of the same drivers that motivated my decision to pursue planning have applied since relocating to Central Virginia. Here I am fortunate to work in a region with exciting planning challenges. We are within the southern growth area associated with the Northeast Megalopolis as growth demands along the Interstate 95 corridor continue their march towards Richmond, VA. Knowing ones-self and where one comes from it's easy to see how long time locals in Central Virginia know too where they came from and how the community character has changed in certain areas with suburbanization and urbanization. The region isn’t suffering from significant economic and social declines but rather struggles with how to grow and maintain an acceptable level of service standards. It’s a reverse kind of challenge. Aside from the nearby City of Fredericksburg, historically Spotsylvania County was a rural County with low population density and far less traffic.  As planners, we are challenged to develop land-use plans to help manage growth, reduce sprawl, and maintain a sense of that rural character outside of designated growth areas. Planners here see an exciting and diverse set of challenges with a wide array of private development proposals, growth strains on infrastructure not built for demand, retrofitting underdeveloped or redevelopment areas for the future such as the establishment of bike/ped friendly networks.

I find it critical to promote and identify practical solutions in planning that can be easily understood by the many instead of the few. It is critical to try to communicate in ways that a layman can understand and ensure reflection on the potential consequences of various proposals received and planning recommendations. I fear that at times in the planning world that idealized plans on paper don’t adequately consider or respect the normal day-to-day of those who live and do business in the service of communities. As someone who worked in a garden center throughout high school and college whether delivering flowers or working from a dump truck emphasizes that planners need to pay attention to those easy to be seen details like how a delivery driver or tradesmen crew can navigate or park in proximity to the point of delivery and safely navigate through streets. Communities need to consider logistical challenges for drivers and the transport of goods from truck to destination. Considerate of logistics and other industries as well, how do we address the prospect of automation when it impacts others' livelihoods, removes incomes used to put food on the table, maintain a home, support local business, extinguishes marketable skills or job experiences now rendered unneeded due to technology, incomes used to put food on the table, maintain a home, support local business?

Jeff Harvey, AICP

Jeff Harvey

It is hard to believe it but as of this month, I will have been a professional planner for 33 years.  The time has flown by but I have learned a lot and had the chance to make an impact on the community.  I have had the rare pleasure of working for Stafford County that entire time. 

I started my career after graduate school and a long job search of eight months.  I had interviewed with Stafford County twice, but the third time was a charm and I found my way to the Planning Department in January 1989.  I really enjoyed reviewing subdivision and site plans.  In those days, the typical site plan was only a few sheets of layouts and details.  I also was involved in reviewing rezoning applications and coordinating code amendments.  

The public interactions that came along with this first job made me want to have a broader understanding of the planning field.  After talking with the Planning Director, I decided to pursue my AICP credential.  Dusting off the college texts and going through the “green books” after being in the planning field for a while made me appreciate and better understand the information, theory, and practice of planning.  Fortunately, I passed the exam on the first try and earned my AICP in 1992.  It has served me well.  It helped me to branch out to long-range land use and transportation planning and made it possible for me to become the Interim Planning Director in 2002 and earn the permanent position in 2003.

Stafford County is located along I-95 halfway between Richmond and Washington DC.  If you have ever sat in traffic along that stretch of highway, it wouldn’t take you long to figure out that growth management is a significant issue for the area.  Being able to practice planning here has really given me the opportunity to pull out the playbook on available planning tools to help with growth management.  I have been fortunate enough to work with elected and appointed officials that were willing to accept creativity and take risks while staying within the boundaries of the State Code.  Besides using the “big tools” of the Comprehensive Plan, subdivision and zoning ordinances, and the sewer and water utility system to influence the location and type of development, the County has successfully implemented Purchase of Development Rights and Transfer of Development Rights to sure up its urban growth boundary.  It also uses transportation impact fees to capture transportation improvement funding from by-right development.  Current planning efforts are focused on creating a downtown area for this suburban county.  I continue to be excited about being part of the team that is working to make the community a great place to live, work, and play.  That’s what planning is all about.

Laura Castro

Laura Castro

During my undergraduate career at the University of California, San Diego, out of curiosity, I took urban planning courses which eventually led to me declaring my major in urban studies and planning. I took a course to learn how to use ArcGIS and I was assigned a task to download data and apply it to a real-world situation. I decided to study the community I grew up in made of predominantly immigrant and low-income residents in San Diego. I realized how powerful the application of data could be to help explore and solve issues in communities. This realization led me to want to pursue a career in urban planning and learn how to use data to address social inequities in the field.

I am currently pursuing my master's degree in Urban and Regional Planning for Virginia Tech at the Arlington campus. I wanted to broaden my skillset and take classes to learn about fields within urban planning that I may not be familiar with to broaden my perspective. Concurrently, I work part-time for Arlington County analyzing data for the Vision Zero program. It is incredibly rewarding to be supporting a transportation initiative that aims to save lives and creates safety measures for all road users, especially the most vulnerable ones such as pedestrians and cyclists.

This year I had the opportunity to attend the annual APA Virginia Conference back in October where I was recognized as the VT Community Scholar. It was my first time attending an APA conference and I hope to be more involved in the APA community and attend more conferences in the future. It was an overall great experience to be surrounded by leaders who aim to make their communities a better place to live in.

As a young planner, I am excited about the future of urban planning. It is a rewarding career to be in and I am taking every opportunity I can to learn how to be an effective leader in the field."

Marlo Ford, AICP

Marlo Ford

Hello, my name is Marlo Ford, and I am a true native Washingtonian. I was born in Washington, D.C. as were my grandparents and great grandparents; so, I have had the pleasure of listening to many stories about changes in the region from housing to the racial makeup.  Growing up, I was very interested in how my family was moving around the segregated District from one area to another.  My maternal grandparents lived in the Capitol Hill neighborhood but when my mother was in junior high school, my grandparents decided to move to the “suburbs” of Washington DC.  They had the opportunity to buy a house in Southeast Washington which had vibrant businesses, restaurants, and parks.  Now, the Capitol Hill neighborhood is a majority White, and Southeast is more than 90% minority. But even that is changing again as demographics in the area continuously shift.

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland in 1991.  At the time, I thought I wanted to be a business major but discovered a major titled “Urban Studies” that appealed to me.  Because of the fascinating stories told to me by family about the history of this region, I figured I’d take a class to learn more.  There I discovered a major that encompassed many aspects of learning that really interested me.   
During my time at the University of Maryland, I took classes with Professor Melvin Levin, who was President of the American Institute of Certified Planners from 1986 to 1988 and formally the Director of Urban Studies at Boston University and the Chairman for the Department of Urban Planning and Policy for Rutgers University.  He brought a wealth of knowledge about urban cities and the challenges that were facing them in the 80s. At the time, the Urban Studies program was located under Social Sciences where you obtained a Bachelor in Arts.  Now, it’s located under the School of Architecture and now a Bachelor of Science. This exemplifies how the major is changing how people perceive the field of urban studies.

Another fond memory I have is my government class taught by Parris Glendening, the County Executive for Prince George’s County at the time. He was the first person who I remember at that level of government who advocated for the redevelopment of the inner core of the Beltway area and was anti-sprawl.  He articulated what it meant for the expanding infrastructure and spoke clearly about how sprawl would leave older communities in a challenging circumstance. He also spoke about the impact the sprawl would have in the rural areas of Prince George’s County.  This interested me because my great aunt lived in what was called Croom, Maryland where tobacco used to be grown and harvested. Mr. Glendening went on to become Governor of Maryland and I would find eventually find myself at the school where he received his master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning…Florida State University.  

My time at Florida State University gave me an early view of the many challenges we face in bringing minorities into the planning profession. I was one of three Black students and the only Black female accepted into the master’s program in 1993. My professional journey had many challenges and unfortunately, I still see those today with young minorities entering the field.  I made it my mission to share my experience with anyone who needed mentoring, but in particular, women and minorities.  I have learned that the same level of mentoring and opportunities for internships is lacking now just as it was for me back in the 1990s. This concerns me as we need more mentoring and solid internships to nurture the development of these up-and-coming professionals.

I have now entered my 25th year with the City of Alexandria Department of Planning and Zoning and have worked with some really great people.  I have seen and witnessed the changes in this city.  I have worked with integrity and have always taken time to patiently guide people who may not understand the planning process. Over the last two years, I have expanded my knowledge by taking classes in Emergency Management.  I had the great opportunity to work with that Department for a six-month stint and again during COVID-19 as part of the disaster response team.  One major project I headed was identifying critical infrastructure for the city. This was part of a larger project being carried out throughout the entire National Capital Region.  Some of these critical infrastructure locations were approved through the development process.  When this area found itself in the middle of the unrest last year, these same buildings that housed certain government functions became a concern for other agencies.  This began to show the interrelatedness of planning and other fields in our lives.

I could say more but this is how I will end my little story.  When I was an undergraduate, my parents could not comprehend what my major was and why I was studying “Urban Studies”.  When I would tell people I was going to graduate school, people would ask, “What is Urban and Regional Planning?”  After 25 years of working in planning, my answer is as follows, “Planning is the built and the unbuilt environment.  It is not only your neighborhood and your roads, but it is your schools, your police and fire departments.  It is your parks and your waterways; it is also the areas of natural vegetation.  Planning is, in fact your everyday experience in the world around you.