Growing up in Fairfax County, Land Use Planner Jessica Pfeiffer wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and attend Virginia Tech, not as a geography major, but to pursue a degree in education and history. A class in urban affairs and planning and an internship with the City of Alexandria changed the goal, but not the university.
Jessica’s father graduated from Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment in 1971 and made a career with the federal government as a cartographer. She would do the same—attend and graduate from Tech, but not with a degree in geography, or even education, as planned. In order to fulfill a core curriculum requirement during her freshman year, Jessica took an introductory class in urban affairs and planning and, through that program, was offered an opportunity to do what was called the Washington Semester—a 12-week program involving an intensive schedule of course work and internships with a local government, the federal government, or a non-profit organization. Jessica went to work for the City of Alexandria’s Planning & Zoning office where she collected data and information for a study of the Washington Street Corridor, among other projects. She was asked to come back the following summer. Jessica graduated from Virginia Tech in 2004, earning a B.A. in public and urban affairs and political science. Soon after she was awarded a master’s degree in urban and regional planning, and joined The Land Lawyers in our Prince William office. Here’s more about our Land Use Planner.
TLL: In graduate school, you wrote your final paper on the economic and physical sustainability of lifestyle centers in comparison to regional malls. What changes in our lifestyles have you seen since you wrote that paper more than 10 years ago?
Jessica Pfeiffer: I have had the unique experience of researching lifestyle centers and working on existing malls choosing to redevelop as lifestyle centers, as well as undeveloped sites starting the process of developing. The greater the mix of uses in a lifestyle center with a strong residential component, the more successful they seem to be.
TLL: What do you enjoy most about your role as a planner?
JP: It is always satisfying to see our planning efforts completed and being used and enjoyed by the community. I especially enjoy the work we do with churches and am very proud of the long-lasting relationships we have built with our clients and government officials. When we all work together, it’s the community that benefits.
TLL: Tell us about the projects you are working on now.
JP: I am working on many projects, large or small. Due diligence matters, zoning determination letters, sign permits, special use permits, and research are short-term projects but always ongoing. I am also working on larger projects that incorporate planning techniques and will enhance transportation. I have the opportunity to work with clients based around the United States and there is always something to learn from it.
TLL: What is your role with the Prince William Design Review Committee?
JP: I am the Administrator of a few Design Review Committees for large projects in Prince William County including Reid’s Prospect and Wellington Glen. It is mostly mixed-use projects with many components. It is interesting to see projects come together. Not everything can be contemplated at the time of the entitlement. Having a Design Review Committee review project components that involve architecture, layout, signage, and other details throughout the process is helpful in creating a comprehensive development.
TLL: When you’re not working as a planner, how do you spend your free time?
JP: I had a baby in May—Hannah is 5 months old and such a joy! She is destined to like geography and planning because my husband is also a planner and we decorated the nursery with a rainbow theme that includes continents and geographical maps and images. We cannot wait to travel with Hannah. There’s so much to show her about urban forms. We’ll try not to bore her with too much planner talk, but it’s in both our DNA. We live in Old Town Alexandria, where there is so much to see and do with Hannah. I love its uniqueness and realized back in college, during my Washington Semester, that I wanted to live there.
TLL: What part of the world, or universe, would you most like to visit?
JP: We love to travel, so visiting Australia, and London is on our list.
TLL: Do you have a hero or heroine?
JP: I know most people say this, and I will say it too, my parents. I would not be where I am today without them. They encouraged and supported my education. My mom actually heard about The Land Lawyers before I fully understood a planner’s role at a law firm. And, boy, am I glad she did. This is the only place I have worked since college and feel very lucky to have found this job. I work with such smart and dedicated support staff, and intelligent and experienced attorneys and planners. I am especially grateful for having had the opportunity to work alongside Susan Flanigan, a planner who recently retired from the firm.
TLL: Why do you think Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh is a great place to work?
JP: The Land Lawyers are a very close-knit group and it’s because of the people. We are dedicated to our work and that positively influences our office environment.
TLL: Thank you, Jessica!