2020 Planning Excellence Award Recipients

Budd Chavooshian Award for Outstanding Professional Planner
Tom Dallessio, AICP, PP, FRSA

Thomas G. Dallessio AICP/PP/CPM/FRSA is a licensed professional planner with over three decades of distinguished experience in the practice, teaching and writing of planning in the public, private, nonprofit and academic sectors. Early in his career, Tom was instrumental in the drafting, cross-acceptance and implementation of the first and second N.J. State Development and Redevelopment Plans and was honored to be Governor Whitman’s appointee to the State Planning Commission. As a Senior Policy Advisor to two N.J. governors, he co-drafted the law to preserve a million acres and led the Governor’s Million Acre State Agency Task Force. As V.P. and N.J. Director of Regional Plan Association, Tom commanded impactful research, planning and advocacy to improve the economic health, environmental resiliency and quality of life in the metropolitan area, organizing 5 Mayors’ Institutes on Community Design and coordinating groundbreaking research on affordable housing, environmental protection of the Highlands and Pinelands, property tax reform, redevelopment, and transportation finance in New Jersey.  As Executive Director of Leadership New Jersey and Next City, Tom informed and engaged next generation leaders to take action to improve their communities.

After Superstorm Sandy, Tom founded the Center for Resilient Design at New Jersey Institute of Technology and organized seminars, studios and research at the College of Architecture + Design. He was the principal investigator of advanced research on distributed energy microgrids, and he co-created an Alternative Spring Break where over 1,000 volunteers helped people recover and rebuild in a more resilient and sustainable manner. Tom has taught land use and infrastructure planning at both NJIT and the Bloustein School at Rutgers University, and mentored students to use their education and experiences to build better communities. Currently, Tom is an independent consultant to nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.

A proud and actively engaged alumnus of Rutgers University, Tom earned his Bachelor of Arts from Rutgers College, Master of Arts from the Eagleton Institute of Politics, and Master of City and Regional Planning degree from the Bloustein School.  

From the State Plan, to Superstorm Sandy, to mentoring the next generation of planners, APA-NJ thanks Tom for his work to build and rebuild quality communities in New Jersey and around the world.

Stuart Meck Distinguished Service Award
Margaret (Peg) Seip, AICP/PP

Margaret (Peg) Seip has been a city planner in New York City and New Jersey for over 30 years, dedicated to expanding affordable housing, open space, and other needed resources by helping local stakeholders and community organizations to identify, articulate, design and implement their visions. She is being honored by APA-NJ for her enthusiastic service to APA-NJ’s Community Planning Assistance Program (CPAP), which provides pro bono planning services to economically challenged communities in northern New Jersey.

Through CPAP, Peg has been able to apply her passion for social justice, building diversity in the planning field, and collaborative community-based planning, especially within low and moderate-income communities. For example, as Project Lead for CPAP’s 2019 “Paterson Greenway” project for Paterson Habitat for Humanity, Peg engaged a diverse and interdisciplinary team to inventory property and evaluate conditions along the Passaic River in Paterson’s Northside neighborhood. Working with Habitat-Paterson and responding to identified needs for enhanced community safety and access to open space and recreation resources, the team created a plan to improve a badly distressed industrial area by addressing flooding, remediating environmental hazards, and creating a beautiful walkway along the river connecting to the Great Falls National Historical Park.

Whether on the front lines, advocating for affordable housing, environmental improvements or a more resilient quality of life in our urban communities or making sure to work with planners who better reflect the communities in which they work, we thank Peg for everything she has done to seek more equity in the planning process and more diversity in the city planning profession.

Distinguished Civic Leadership Award
Brandon McKoy

Brandon McKoy is the President of New Jersey Policy Perspective and leads the organization’s efforts in shaping policy debates to advance economic justice for the many, not a chosen few.  We honor him for his work at NJPP to ensure all communities enjoy sound and responsive urban planning – to improve the availability of safe and affordable homes, boost public transportation, and address the many challenges of climate change – by advocating for a robust and inclusive state budget process that reflects the priorities and needs of all residents.


Prior to being named President of NJPP in February 2019, Brandon served as NJPP’s Director of Government and Public Affairs, where he designed and implemented the organization’s outreach, advocacy, and government relations activities. He also produces timely, credible, and accessible research and analysis on issues including, but not limited to, economic security, the social safety net and economic opportunity.

Before joining NJPP in August 2014 as a national fellow under the State Priorities Partnership’s and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ state policy fellowship program, Brandon worked as a Program Associate at The Fund for New Jersey, where he assisted in grantmaking on public policy issues that particularly affect low-income and minority populations in New Jersey. He also worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA at HANDS, Inc., a community development corporation in New Jersey, where he worked to mitigate the negative impact of foreclosures and increase citizen participation in local decision-making.

Brandon received a MA in City & Regional Planning and Policy Development from Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, and during his time in school served as the Student Representative for APA-NJ.  

APA-NJ thanks Brandon for his leadership – in planning and in social equity – something that we saw during his time in graduate school and clearly continuing today.

Distinguished Emerging Planner Award
Nicholas Dickerson, PP, AICP, CFM

For an emerging planner and leader in our profession, Nick goes above and beyond what is generally done in the field. Since receiving his Masters in Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati, Nick has been involved in planning projects in New Jersey and Pennsylvania – promoting outdoor education for elementary students and landowners while working as a county planner in northeastern Pennsylvania, and advancing the issue of urban water infrastructure in New Jersey’s cities while working for New Jersey Future.

Now as a consultant, he has helped advance resiliency in shore towns following Sandy. He has helped reposition underutilized properties for redevelopment throughout the state, conducting redevelopment studies and plans. He recently overhauled Mahwah Township’s zoning ordinance, including a new sign code and development regulations that comply with federal standards.

Despite being at the beginning of his career, Nick has presented at numerous conferences in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He has also taken time to mentor junior staff. He has presented on the topic of planning to college classes, contributed to local magazines, and has even advanced the field of planning to those pre-emerging planners out there, when he helped lead a Bring Your Child to Work Day activity on land use planning.

Nick is being honored by APA-NJ for his leadership in the profession and for making a difference in numerous municipalities throughout the state. His work will have a lasting benefit to residents, businesses, investors, and visitors.

Distinguished Emerging Planner Award
Simran Riar

As a Junior Associate at Nishuane Group, Simran has gained a solid understanding of the Local Redevelopment & Housing Law (LRHL) process through conducting Redevelopment Area in Need Studies. As a Planner, he’s adopted an analytical technique that goes simply beyond satisfying LRHL criteria but instead considers current trends and existing assets that tap into the area’s redevelopment potential that will enhance the environment and general welfare of communities. Even more impressive, is his ability to comprehend the subject matter, present to the general public and defend his work during periods of intense cross-examination. This, by far, sets Simran apart from his peers and is indicative of his ability to grow and thrive in the planning industry.

The infusion of Simran’s technical background in the public outreach and engagement process has had a great impact. In preparation for Master Plan visioning sessions, Simran was able to create illustrative and informative maps that depicted neighborhood conditions. These maps allowed residents to assess the issues and challenges in their respective neighborhoods as well as establish consensus on proposed solutions. Simran’s products provided residents with the necessary tools to identify highly traversed areas, districts with high vacancy rates and underutilized parking sites. The maps were a vital resource used to obtain the requisite data to develop recommendations identified in multiple elements throughout the Master Plan which has since been adopted. Along with other emerging professionals in the field of Planning, Simran hopes to continue to utilize his skillsets to work towards a more advanced and equitable future.

Simran is being honored by APA-NJ for his creativity, passion and advancing a technological approach to engaging more stakeholders into the planning process.

James W. Hughes Applied Research Award
Regional Plan Association: Be My Neighbor Report

Regional Plan Association’s (RPA) report, “Be my Neighbor,” identifies accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and single-family home conversions as an untapped housing solution that could create tens of thousands of new homes in the region, many near transit, without significant new construction or significant disruption to the look and feel of already established neighborhoods. ADUs and home conversions provide an opportunity to expand housing opportunities for people of all incomes throughout New Jersey and the entire New York metropolitan region, because they create new apartment-style housing from large single- and two-family homes that already exist and by converting yard space, garages, basements, or attics into individual housing units.

RPA’s report shows how the housing that could be created by adopting ADU- and conversion-supportive policies would help the region meet diverse housing needs, including: to create shelter in a public health crisis; to create secondary income for seniors to age in place; for older relatives and younger adults to live comfortably together and care for one another; and to reduce housing costs for households to thrive and so businesses can find the workers they need for the economy to expand. The “Be My Neighbor” report also makes a critical connection between ADU- and conversion-supportive planning policies and a stronger and more resilient economic and pandemic recovery for New Jersey and for the region as a whole.

APA-NJ honors RPA and the “Be My Neighbor” report for drawing attention to ADUs and housing conversions as a key element of the comprehensive effort to improve the affordability, diversity and accessibility of housing, and one that can be provided within established communities and at a lower cost than new construction.

Project and Plan Awards

Outstanding Plan Award
Borough of Raritan Circulation Plan Update and Bike & Pedestrian Safety Plan

In 2019, the Borough of Raritan (Somerset County) formed a Bike and Pedestrian Safety Committee to evaluate safe passageways for bicyclists and pedestrians throughout the Borough, to connect people to the Borough and regional assets via mass transit, and to make recommendations for improvements that would be included in an updated Circulation Plan Element. What transpired was a grassroots initiative that called together neighbors, non-profit and county partners, and the local business community to create a new Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Plan (Bike/Ped Plan). With the assistance of the Borough’s planning consultant, Van Cleef Engineering Associates, the local TMA – RideWise, and with funding from the Regional Center Partnership, the Borough was able to conduct walkability audits in four different areas, each resulting in recommendations for physical improvements to sidewalks, crosswalks, curb ramps, lighting, signage, etc.; for the creation of new connections and new passageways such as bike lanes and multi-use trails; and for traffic calming strategies in each of the neighborhoods.

The Bike/Ped Plan is not only about safety on streets. It is about creating spaces for people to gather that are accessible by bike or by walking, such as the downtown. It is about making connections to regional assets such as Duke Farms and nearby parks. And it is about featuring Raritan’s NJ Transit rail station as an attractive way to travel in and out of the borough.

The Borough of Raritan Bike/Ped Plan and the Circulation Plan update, together, are begin honored by APA-NJ as a prime example of a comprehensive circulation plan that focuses on safe passage, connectivity, sustainability, public spaces, assets and attractions, and removing barriers to each of these components.

Outstanding Community Engagement and Education Award
NJ Map

NJ MAP is a suite of internet-based geospatial tools and map themes designed to assist New Jersey municipalities, local-level planners and other stakeholders in visualizing local environments and understanding how their decisions will impact those environments—in both positive and negative ways. Entirely funded by competitive grants awarded from both private and public entities, NJ map is provided to the public at no cost. Created and maintained by Rowan University’s Geospatial Research Lab (GeoLab) since 2011 under the guidance of Dr. John Hasse, AICP, NJ MAP advances the goals of sound land use and environmental management decisions throughout the state.

NJ MAP’s many tools are intuitively designed to facilitate use by not only professional planners, but also by the countless volunteer citizens – planning board members, environmental commission members, watershed organizations, green action committees, citizen groups – who use it to shape their community advocacy and decision-making. NJ MAP offers this mosaic of stakeholders—not the least of which are professional and citizen planners—a comprehensive approach to envisioning the environmental impact of planning decisions, as well as the ability to transfer this vision to implementable policies across the state.

NJ Map is being honored by APA-NJ for providing community planners with the ability to distill data and visualize the impacts of land use scenarios and ultimately, to make informed decisions for their communities.

Outstanding Student Project Award
Ensuring Equity in TOD: A Blueprint for State-Level Reform

A team of eleven graduate students in public policy and architecture at Princeton University examined racial and economic inequity and opportunities for equitable transit-oriented development (“eTOD”) in New Jersey’s 244 existing transit station neighborhoods, as well as proposed new stations, in a policy workshop in the fall 2020 semester. To their clients, Fair Share Housing Center and New Jersey Future, the team’s 56-page report offered eight major recommendations. They advised Fair Share Housing Center how to prioritize its Mount Laurel affordable housing compliance planning in transit-served municipalities with high racial and economic inequality; they proposed policy advocacy strategies for overhauling how New Jersey allocates Low Income Housing Tax Credits for rental affordable housing development – in order to advance racial justice and the building blocks of good eTOD. Maps, tables, an extensive racial and economic database and analysis of transit station census tracts supported their policy recommendations for State and municipal actions to build an equitable New Jersey.

The Ensuring Equity in TOD project and team members are being honored by APA-NJ for their innovation in designing this statewide framework to build a more equitable, as well as transit-accessible, state.