Land planner deals with cities’ thorny issues

Her company has been named M/WBE Business of the Year.
Bill DiPaolo, Palm Beach Post

Nilsa Zacarias, a land-use planning consultant, has done projects that include annexation in Tequesta, development equestrian services in Wellington, a design workshop in Palm Beach Gardens, an evaluation and appraisal report in Lake Worth and zoning reviews in Manalapan.

The Paraguay native's Jupiter-based land-use planning company, NZ Consultants –  known to many as NZC – has operated since 2009. Zacarias was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in 1992 and earned a master's degree in community and regional planning from Iowa State University. She has a bachelor's degree in architecture from her native country.

She was recently awarded with the M/WBE Business of the Year 2013 by The Palm Beach Partners, given annually to businesses run by women and minorities. The Palm Beach Partners is a coalition of city, county, state and nonprofit agencies aligned to maximize economic development opportunities for small businesses throughout the South Florida region.

Zacarias' hobbies are art and exploring new places.

Q: Are there advantages to working with different communities as an urban planner rather than one community?
A: It allows me to work on a broad range of projects and to apply my diverse experience and skills to find innovative solutions, while at the same time learning and growing professionally. Every community is unique.

Q: How do you get the public involved in urban planning?
A: Public workshops and design charrettes are excellent tools. Social media, including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, and digital newsletters have become forums for involving communities in urban planning issues.

Q: What is the top urban planning issue in Palm Beach County?
A: The top issue is how local governments handle growth. There are many aspects related to growth: economic development, transportation and traffic aspects, affordable housing, climate change and the effects that urban sprawl has on the overall quality of life.

A main planning issue is that some communities in areas located east of Interstate 95 have low density. Density needs to be studied in a regional context. Density that works for one city may not work for another.

Higher density usually is equated with higher crime and more traffic. However, density is needed to support mass transit, to preserve open space and avoid urban sprawl. These attributes attract younger generations (millennials) who prefer to live in denser urban cities. As residents become seniors, denser urban neighborhoods allow them to continue being independent, because they can walk to different activities and services.

Q: What opportunities does All-Aboard Florida present to Palm Beach County?
A: This initiative will create jobs and boost tourism. It provides opportunity for mixed-use transit oriented development around the train station. AAF will contribute to a decrease in fuel consumption.

Q: What challenges will All-Aboard Florida present?
A: Minimizing the impact of additional rail traffic must be addressed. Other challenges are integrating the transportation hub into the existing urban fabric and providing public services. Also, noise pollution is a challenge….

Q: You are a member of Jupiter's planning and zoning commission. What has been your biggest surprise?
A: My biggest surprise has been how important is the voice of the community. Listening to community concerns has added another dimension to the analysis of a project and helps me to understand the impact a project has on residents.