Controversial Riverside project moves closer to approval as Austin City Council seeks affordability guarantees

The 4700 East Riverside project has been a controversial development, giving rise to several protests. Protesters were escorted out during Austin City Council's Aug. 8 meeting.

The 4700 East Riverside project has been a controversial development, giving rise to several protests. Protesters were escorted out during Austin City Council's Aug. 8 meeting.

Updated Aug. 9 at noon to clarify which council member moved to approve the zoning changes on first reading

Austin City Council tentatively approved a series of zoning changes for a 97-acre mixed-use project planned at the intersection of East Riverside Drive and South Pleasant Valley Road.

Thursday's 9-2 vote came after a first reading of the project. Council members said that when the project comes back for a second reading, they want to guarantee there will be affordable units as a result of the increased height allowances. The council also wanted to codify protections for parkland on the site before approving the changes in full.

The developer, a joint venture between Nimes Capital and Presidium, is seeking to rezone the property to include a mix of uses, taller buildings and an ability to participate in the city’s density bonus program.

The site currently houses apartment buildings that are largely rented by students and considered affordable, despite not being formally income-restricted.

A local advocacy group, Defend Our Hoodz, has been a vocal critic of the project. Members were escorted out of City Hall chambers by police before council members took up the zoning case.

Many council members raised concerns about allowing for buildings to exceed to current zoning of 40 feet without ensuring affordable units are built. The density bonus program only applies to buildings that exceed 60 feet.

“It’s a [question of], ‘Do we keep affordable housing stock for we don’t know how long or a big question mark?” said Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who represents District 2.

Council Member Greg Casar said he had concerns about the project’s impact on affordable housing in the area and council’s expediency.

“I think in this case we are actually setting a lower standard than we are across the city with our code rewrite,” he said, suggesting that council hold the developer to the affordability requirements proposed as part of the city’s land code redevelopment.

Casar also raised concerns about the speed of the approval process, pointing out that other zoning cases for smaller projects had received much more discussion from council.

“If this case had been somewhere else and we heard from people who live nearby, my sense is we wouldn’t be moving on with this,” he said, referencing the number of students who live in the area.

Casar added that council will soon hear a rezoning case about the future of the Austin American-Statesman property and said he does not expect it to be approved in one day. Likewise, he mentioned that council spent more than six months considering a zoning case regarding the Grove at Shoal Creek development in North Austin, which is smaller than the proposed project on Riverside.

As a result, Council Member Pio Renteria—who represents District 3, where the project will be located—revised his motion to approve the zoning changes on first reading as opposed to granting them outright.

Casar and Garza cast the two votes against the zoning case on first reading Thursday. But other council members seemed optimistic that the project could be adapted to address these concerns.

“I would hate to lose this project and have nothing but high-end [housing] built on this area,” Renteria said.

Council is scheduled to take up the zoning case again on Aug. 22.
By Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.


MOST RECENT

Dr. Molly Lopez is the director of the Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health and also serves as a research associate professor at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin. (Designed by Stephanie Torres/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Mental health expert talks emotional well-being, building resiliency for the 2020-21 school year

According to Dr. Molly Lopez, director of the Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health, the upcoming school year will serve as an opportunity for students, families, teachers and school administrators to learn skills in coping, re-evaulate mental health protocols and build resiliency in challenging times.

The Soup Peddler will be opening in East Austin at the end of August. (Courtesy The Soup Peddler)
East Austin news: New Soup Peddler location coming soon, pizza food truck Dough Boys now open and more

Korean restaurant Oseyo reopened for dining service with a a new patio space, and Gravity ATX, a new housing development, is breaking ground this fall on Springdale Road.

Jules Design Bar
TABC change opens window for some bars to qualify as restaurants under state pandemic orders

Following a new industry guideline recently distributed by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, more bars across the state may soon be able to qualify as restaurants.

Bikers ride up Shoal Creek Boulevard in February. A bond proposal from Austin would fund additional bike lanes, sidewalk reconstruction, capital improvements and more. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin will send $460 million transportation bond to voters in November

The bond would fund include capital improvements to a number of projects, including the Longhorn Dam Bridge over Lady Bird Lake. The cost to the median Austin taxpayer would be about $77-$80 per year.

The future location on South Congress Avenue would be the third located in the South Austin area. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
P. Terry's plans for S. Congress drive-thru and more Austin-area news

Read the latest Austin-area business and community news.

Tesla announced its decision to bring its next gigafactory to Travis County on July 22. (Jay Jones/Community Impact Newspaper)
Tesla posts first gigafactory jobs as construction gets underway in Travis County

The company has 49 active listings for Austin-area jobs related to the gigafactory and other operations.

A police officer rides past protesters during the June 7 Justice for Them All March. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Police transformation begins in Austin as City Council approves millions in budget cuts, reinvestments, commitments

The move comes in response to a national and local reckoning over police brutality and the future of public safety.

Capital Metro's plan to build rail lines and expand its public transportation network, Project Connect, will head to voters in the city of Austin on Nov. 3. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Project Connect officially in the hands of Austin voters Nov. 3

Austin City Council took its final vote Aug. 13 on a plan to ask voters for approximately $3.85 billion in local revenue to expand the city's public transportation network.

Austin Regional Clinic location
Austin Regional Clinic now recruiting for coronavirus vaccine trial

Local health care provider Austin Regional Clinic will recruit 250 patients from the Austin area to participate in a late-phase clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine.

(Courtesy AMC Theatres)
AMC Theatres to reopen Aug. 20 with 15-cent tickets

AMC Theatres—which has multiple locations in the Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas—will begin reopening its movie screens Aug. 20.

Austin bars scrap for survival during monthslong shutdown

Bars are fighting through red tape to reclassify as restaurants, offering takeout orders and finding new uses for their spaces. Local business owners said they are finding every avenue possible to survive.