Proposed development in East Riverside raises concerns about affordable housing

Eilish O'Sullivan

Developers are proposing to rezone five properties in East Riverside, an area known among students for its affordable housing, in order to create an “urban village.”

Three rezoning applications were filed for five properties spanning 97.09 acres — Town Lake apartments and the Ballpark North, East, South and West apartments. If approved, the rezoning will change the development regulations to allow for creation of housing, retail, office and hotel spaces at the intersection of East Riverside Drive and Pleasant Valley Road, according to the proposal.

“The reason we choose this apartment complex over others is because it’s affordable,” said Jasmine Wong, kinesiology senior and resident at the Ballpark North apartments. “(The development project) is going to take away student housing.”

The applications to rezone still need approval from the Land Use Commission and the City Council. The applications were filed by Michael Whellan, an Armbrust and Brown lawyer, on behalf of the developers, investment company Nimes Capital of Los Angeles and real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle of Austin. Whellan has rezoned properties throughout Austin and Riverside in the past.

According to a letter sent by Whellan to the city of Austin on March 9, the area currently has 1,308 apartment units, and could ultimately have 4,709 multi-family units. Whellan said their proposal would require affordable units that would be close to $900 per month.

“We are concerned about the removal of affordable housing in this area,” said Malcolm Yeatts, chair of East Riverside and Oltorf representative. “The question is, how do we go about negotiating with the developer in order to create some affordable housing units?”

Whellan said a benefit of development in East Riverside is that because it is primarily student housing, large displacement would not occur. Additionally, development in the area would create a district combining residential and business complexes without the congestion seen in downtown Austin.

“Additional office space will create an independent employment node outside of downtown on a key transit corridor,” Whellan said in his letter.

The Land Use Commission will not be able to approve or deny the application until a neighborhood meeting is held. A meeting date and time has not yet been confirmed.

An initial meeting was held at Good Shepherd On The Hill Episcopal Church on April 4. Representatives of the East Riverside and Oltorf, Montopolis and Govalle and Johnston Terrace locations attended to ask questions, but the meeting drew protesters and was cut short because of its contentious nature.

Daniel Llanes, chair of the Govalle and Johnston Terrace neighborhood contact team, which represents his neighborhood, said even though he does not agree with the way the protesters acted, he does not think they were wrong.

“(The developers) are proposing to make more money and that’s what they do,” Llanes said. “I rather doubt that they will be successful because even amongst all this chaos, there was neighborhood representation … We all came over here to let that guy know.”

Whellan said the team is many months away from moving forward on the project. Residents would receive a notice six months in advance of demolition, if the project is approved.