Council Moves Gently on Riverside Redevelopment

Preliminary approval given to the 97-acre mixed-use plan for 4700 Riverside


Photo by John Anderson

City Council gave preliminary approval on Thursday, Aug. 8 to the 97-acre mixed-use redevelopment at 4700 Riverside that's been dubbed the "Domain on Riverside" by its detractors. The proposal calls for razing five existing apartment complexes that contain about 1,300 housing units; in their place would go, over a 10- to 20-year buildout, 4,700 residential units, 600 hotel rooms, and over 4 million square feet of office and retail space. The case was approved on first reading, 9-2, with Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council Member Greg Casar voting against.

Both cited concerns about displacement caused by tearing down what are currently considered affordable market-rate units. Representing the developer, Armbrust & Brown attorney Michael Whellan talked up a planned relocation package to help displaced tenants pay moving expenses and offer a "right to return" once the new housing units are brought online.

But Casar remained unconvinced the project made sense as a redevelopment in the East Riverside Corri­dor, rather than a greenfield development elsewhere. Moreover, he argued, the applicant's requested zoning – an increase in heights over what's currently allowed in the ERC regulating plan, up to 60 feet – would allow but not require the developers to produce the several hundred subsidized housing units promised for the site, should they opt to forgo the city's density bonus program. He asked his colleagues for more time to find ways to guarantee that affordable housing will be part of 4700 Riverside, pointing to another large mixed-use infill project – The Grove – which was considered by Council for about six months before passing on all three readings. "If this case had been somewhere else," Casar said, "and we'd heard from people who live nearby, my sense is we wouldn't [approve] it on all three readings."

District 3 CM Pio Renteria, who represents the site and its current residents, was reluctant to delay approval but ultimately agreed to Casar's motion. Renteria has consistently argued the city needs more housing, now. "We talk about building more housing and more units," he told his colleagues. "But every time we get to that point, we seem to delay. And the delays are adding up."

More than five hours before Council took up the case, a group of neighborhood revolutionaries disrupted the meeting by rushing the dais to voice their disapproval of any Riverside redevelopment, only to be escorted out by a swarm of APD officers waiting for them. Five were arrested and booked into jail on charges of disrupting a public meeting. Others returned later in the evening – hours after Council had voted on the case – and were again escorted out by APD while chanting the "city process is a sham, we fight back when you steal our land." In spite of these protests, the zoning case will come back to Coun­cil for a second reading on Aug. 22.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin City Council, City Council, 4700 Riverside, Domain on Riverside, Delia Garza, Greg Casar, Armbrust & Brown, Michael Whellan, relocation package, East Riverside Corridor, Pio Renteria

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