ml Robles, one of three new Planning Board members appointed by the Boulder City Council in 2022, has lived, worked, and taught in Boulder for over 40 years. An architect who specializes in designing small homes and accessory dwelling units (ADUs), Robles also has served on the Boulder County Housing Commission, the Boulder County Cultural Council, and as the Newlands EcoPass program coordinator. Robles says she’s grateful to have been appointed to Planning Board, and the experience so far has been “awesome and humbling.”
Robles says she is invested in looking at the community and design implications of zoning changes in “a more holistic way.” As a young architect, she read Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature, which became “a guidepost to my seeing design as a holistic venture,” she says. Robles uses technology such as GIS to understand the contextual layers that influence a site, and considers patterns of topography, water, culture, and people. Other influences include Missing Middle Housing: Thinking Big and Building Small to Respond to Today’s Housing Crisis by Daniel Parolek, a book that she says “gave us language to talk about diversity, equity, and affordability.”
Development “must be held accountable for its social and climate implications,” Robles says. “I want to stand up for place-based equity–the land, trees, water, and other natural systems, which have no one to speak for them.” Robles says she tries to “look at the forces influencing a site, offer solutions, bring data, and create a meaningful conversation to craft outcomes that are supported by our Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP). It’s such a powerful document.”
Three of her favorite BVCP core values are commitments to 1) a culture of creativity and innovation; 2) compact and contiguous development and infill that support evolution to a more sustainable urban form, which she says is the basis of place-based equity; and 3) environmental stewardship and climate action.
Robles would like to see “zoning evolution” that “reconsiders how we use our land.” A “deep look at zoning could result in opportunities to meet our housing needs.” She’d like to see shopping malls with underused parking lots provide housing options. At the Base-Mar center at Baseline and Broadway, which is linked to transit and the federal labs jobs base, “missing middle housing options as a use-by-right in this zone could provide substantial housing in an amenity-rich neighborhood with infrastructure already in place.”
In her Planning Board application, Robles wrote: “Aside from public space, the largest land use on our zoning map is RL-1 [single-family residential], and if we are to substantially address infill and compact and contiguous development, we need to review this land use and especially its default to large-house use-by-right,” which makes infill and compact and contiguous development not possible.
As addendums to single-family homes in existing neighborhoods, ADUs more effectively use the infrastructure in amenity-rich neighborhoods that have public transportation, walkable and bikeable streets, water and sewers, and access to daily services, she says.
“We’re using the existing infrastructure for another small house,” as opposed to needing new infrastructure for a big new house or apartment building, which “make larger hits on the land,” she says. “There are so many wins when you build smaller. In a perfect world, I would flip it and make ADUs use-by-right and make big houses jump through the hoops that ADUs and smaller houses have to jump through now.”
Robles says she looks forward to the City’s ADU policy updates and believes that City Council “will advance the goals that all of them were elected on, which is making housing more affordable and equitable.”