The Austin City Council tentatively approved Thursday the redevelopment of student apartment complexes in Riverside.
In a 9-2 vote, the council gave initial approval to the so-called “4700 Riverside” project, which will convert 97 acres of housing into a mixed-used development and replace 1,300 apartment units in five student apartment complexes: Ballpark North, Town Lake, and the Quad East, West and South. The council will deliberate the project again Aug. 22.
Before council members discussed the project on Thursday, several members of Defend Our Hoodz, an anti-gentrification community organization, were arrested by Austin police for disrupting the meeting. The organization has criticized and protested the project in the past.
If the project passes, developers Presidium Group and Nimes Real Estate are expected to add approximately 4,700 residential units, 600 hotel rooms and more than 4 million square feet of office and retail space to the area in up to 20 years, according to the rezoning application.
In an interview with the Austin American-Statesman, public affairs graduate student Alex Meed said he supported the project if the developers promised tenant protections for residents who might be displaced. The developers have promised to provide tenant protections, according to the Statesman.
Current tenants, including several students, would need to move out after the project’s plans are finalized. Meed told the Statesman that the timing of Thursday’s hearing was unacceptable because many students who live in the complexes are out of town for summer break.
“We can’t have a serious conversation about student housing without the students,” Meed said. “It is
Compensation packages will be offered to all tenants and include first picks of new apartments, $500 in moving expenses, a full refund of remaining deposits, up to $1,200 toward a new lease at a different complex and an additional $500 toward a new lease if the tenant decides to return to their renovated complex, according to the Statesman.
During the meeting, council members said they want to guarantee there will still be affordable units for prospective tenants. Council member Pio Renteria, who represents the district in which the project is located, said he would support the project if the council confirms affordability requirements.
However, council member Greg Casar remained apprehensive about immediately passing the plan, saying he fears it would reduce affordable housing in the area. He said he was also concerned about the quick pace of the approval process, and noted that other zoning cases for smaller projects had received much more discussion from the 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,” Casar said during the meeting, referencing the number of students who were not present during the decision-making process. “I know this is uncomfortable, but the idea of approving this on all three readings – it just smacks of inequity to me.”
Despite disapproval from council members Casar and Delia Garza, other members said they believe the project can be amended to meet everyone’s needs.
“I would hate to lose this project and have nothing but high-end (housing) built on this area,” Renteria said during the meeting.
Originally published August 9, 2019 in The Daily Texan
By Victoria May
Image by Emma Overholt