Know Your Neighbor: Patrick Nicholson


Peace Corps volunteer, traveler, teacher, planner: Patrick Nicholson has been all of those and more.

"I've done many things in my life. Each position I've held, I've learned much, but especially when I attempted to make a difference," said Nicholson during a recent interview.

When Nicholson sets out to complete an activity near and dear to his heart, he stops at nothing to make things occur. An example is the paper route he worked as a teenager to help pay tuition at a Jesuit high school because he believed this education was "the best."

Nicholson was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His parents, the late Judy and David Nicholson, raised three children. Patrick was the eldest. His brother Michael passed away 10 years ago. His sister Kristina (Steve) Shiibilski resides in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

After high school, Nicholson attended Fordham University in New York City. The following year, he transferred and then completed his undergraduate degree in history and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Eventually, he realized his dream of joining the Peace Corps in the early 1990s. He went to Uruguay on assignment.

"There, I met Andrea, the love of my life, who became my better half," he said. "We married 22 years ago. We first lived in an apartment near the national zoo in Washington, D.C."

From there, the couple moved, so Nicholson could attend Virginia Tech(Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) in Blacksburg, Virginia. He also recruited for the Peace Corps during graduate school.

Patrick's Peace Corps duties included teaching environmental education and ecology. Nicholson started a tree school and nursery to enhance his Peace Corps work. At Virginia Tech, Nicholson earned his master's degree in urban affairs and planning with a concentration on environmental policy and planning.

Patrick and Andrea Nicholson have two children. The two Nicholson youngsters live busy lives in their own right. Sophia, 17, is a junior at Taos High School. Sebastian, a 12-year-old sixth-grader, attends Taos Charter School, where his mother works as a special education teacher.

Patrick Nicholson's work history has revolved around environment and planning. At Taos Pueblo, he worked in transportation planning, which included the road department. As part of this position, Nicholson oversaw the GIS (Geographic Information Service) system and coordinated roadside mapping and street signs

At Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, Nicholson served as the planning director. There, he helped develop a new master plan and code. He managed public works and expanded transit ("the blue bus") into the tribal system. While he worked on this task, the tribe selected him as its representative on the North Central Regional Transit District Board.

For a town of Taos contract, Nicholson worked on the land use inventory and produced maps for planning. Nicholson was a senior planner for the City of Santa Fe. In this role, he worked with neighborhood associations, developers and stakeholders to facilitate a smooth transition and serve as an intermediary representing the public interest on local projects

"Sometimes, the process was adversarial, but it was a great learning experience," said Nicholson. His most recent position was as director of planning and land use with the City of Española. In this position, he assigned the city's street and fleet division and oversaw an innovative, comprehensive master plan. He also served as acting city manager when necessary.

At present, Nicholson works at his business, Plan Ahead, which has three main product lines. The professional planning service offers complete project management and guidance, from planning to approval. Another service includes grant writing and administration.

In 2012, Nicholson worked with a Red River restoration group that studied the effects of Molycorp. The group sought citizen involvement in the clean-up process.

The third component of his business involves program management and evaluation for construction projects, large and small, both public and private. Nicholson works from conception to design, planning, budgeting and hiring of architects, engineers and builders. He presents before public bodies and works toward obtaining regulatory approval.

The process includes working with various stakeholders, staffs and neighborhood groups. "One of my main goals here is to make certain the project is well-received," he said.

Nicholson opened his company in 2010. "Through team effort, I've been able to be a good administrator, working with staff to complete a project. I'm self-motivated to get quality work for the community," said Nicholson.

On a personal level, Nicholson used his training and talents to serve on the town of Taos planning commission. He also served as the chairman of this group during part of his tenure.

When he's not working, Nicholson jogs twice a week, and during the growing season, tends to a small vegetable garden. He hikes and enjoys watching baseball at Isotopes Park in Albuquerque or on television. His eclectic reading tastes include science fiction, Greek philosophy, classics, mysteries, American fiction, nonfiction and biographies. Nicholson throws the ball to his Labrador retriever, Pete, and he loves to roast or grill barbecued lamb with his special marinades and sauces.

He envisions retirement as a division of time between Taos and Uruguay for Andrea and himself. The countries enjoy "opposite seasons," which means visiting the beaches of Uruguay during a Taos winter. "This won't occur until after the kids complete college," Nicholson said.

In the meantime, "I want to make Taos and Northern New Mexico a better place. I feel that I have a lot to offer," he said.