Introducing Laura Kaplan, New Planning Board Member

Laura Kaplan, one of three new Planning Board members appointed by the Boulder City Council in 2022,  has worked throughout her professional career with public agencies as a collaborative facilitator and mediator. She now hopes to leverage this background along with her experience working on the city’s East Boulder Subcommunity Working Group to serve her community as a member of Planning Board.

Laura Kaplan was appoint to a five year term on Planning Board, 2022-2027

While Kaplan may be new to Planning Board, she’s no stranger to government planning processes. Throughout her career in public policy, she’s gained insight into “what makes agencies tick, how they make decisions, and how stuff really gets done.” Additionally, she’s gained valuable process experience that she is looking forward to bringing to this new role, such as “mediation skills, clarifying interests, asking questions… and making process suggestions.”

She is looking forward to applying her experience and skills gained through working with state, federal, and local agencies to serving her community here in Boulder. “It’s nice to be a part of a group where I’m allowed to be opinionated about something other than the process,” Kaplan joked.

After serving on the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan Working Group for three years, Kaplan is ready to apply what she’s learned to planning throughout the city. She described her experience in this working group as a “fascinating deep dive into how Boulder specifically does urban planning and community outreach.” Throughout her career, she’s had experience in a variety of planning processes including forest planning, habitat restoration, and floodplain management. This new opportunity to focus on urban planning is one that’s exciting to Kaplan. “Urban planning is an axis on which the future of Boulder revolves.”

Kaplan sees her membership on Planning Board as an opportunity to apply her core values to public process, including diversity and equity. “I don’t want to see Boulder become Aspen or Vail,” she said. “And I don’t think anybody wants that. But how do we translate that into the built environment?” One recent development which Kaplan highlighted is Planning Board’s decision to support the annexation of land at 302 and 334 Arapahoe Ave. Of the 13 total units that will be developed on this property, five townhomes will be permanently affordable.

“It’s so exciting to me for equity reasons,” Kaplan said. “Five families will be able to buy a house in one of the most expensive cities… right by a trailhead, right by a beautiful city park.” She highlighted this project as an example of Boulder’s willingness and desire to disperse affordable housing throughout the city, rather than reserving housing close to Boulder’s top amenities for “folks who can afford market rate.”

While Kaplan thinks the city does a good job managing the affordable housing program, she also noted the distinct lack of “missing middle” housing in Boulder. “Even middle class income people are getting priced out,” she noted, citing Boulder’s median home price that’s well over $1 million. One of the main reasons for this is zoning; the majority of Boulder’s land is zoned for single-family housing, and in locations zoned for multifamily housing, “it’s in the developer’s interest to build bigger condo or apartment buildings. And there’s nothing in the middle.”

One idea Kaplan offered is to update the zoning of some existing residential areas. “There just aren’t a lot of large chunks of land where you can plan something new,” she noted, arguing that achieving our desired mix of housing types will require looking at some areas that are currently zoned exclusively for single-family homes. She added that we shouldn’t get rid of single-family zoning throughout the city, but “there may be places, such as along transit corridors… where this missing middle concept of duplexes and townhomes can be more appropriate.”

Another idea that Kaplan has is to address issues in the site review process. She noted thresholds in the process that get tripped based on unit counts rather than floor area, leading to situations where, for example, a developer may choose to build 19 luxury units rather than 30 smaller, more affordable units. “We could ask City Council to consider prioritizing [this] as a work plan item for staff, because it could be based on square footage rather than unit count.”

Kaplan also highlighted some of the opportunities presented in the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan. “East Boulder is a subcommunity that is one-tenth of the city, and it currently has next to no housing… At full build-out [in 20 years] it will have about 5,000 units, which is about one-tenth of the city’s housing supply,” she said. “And I just think that’s so exciting.” She added that the vast majority of housing planned for East Boulder is condos and apartment buildings in a more urban setting. “It appeals to different people than the people who want to maintain a house and a yard.”  

While the pace and scale of the East Boulder subcommunity redevelopment is up to individual property owners, Kaplan is very excited by the opportunity it provides. “Diversity of housing types encourages diversity of people types,” she summarized.

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