Austin: Council OKs Initial Approval of Rezoning for Major East Riverside Project
Featured Photo (above): An early (2016) concept rendering of the 97-acre Project Catalyst development at maturity. Courtesy: JLL.
by Edmond Ortiz
Austin (Travis County)–A 97-acre mixed-use development proposed for East Austin that has been evolving as a concept for three years is beginning to clear bureaucratic review at City Hall.
City Council on Aug. 8 gave preliminary approval to a slate of rezonings to accommodate the project immediately northeast of the intersection of East Riverside Drive and South Pleasant Valley Road.
Project Catalyst, the working title in a 2016 promotional JLL video, was presented in its latest incarnation to the council. The developers are referring to it as 4700 East Riverside, but opponents have pejoratively nicknamed it “Domain on Riverside” to express their disdain over encroaching gentrification.
This is a joint venture between Dallas-based Presidium Group LLC and the Los Angeles/Austin investment firm Nimes Capital LLC. They propose developing 4,709 multi-family units, 4 million square feet of office space, 435,000 square-feet of street-level retail space, 60,000 square feet of medical and dental office space, and 600 hotel rooms.
However, the developers would first have to raze five existing apartment complexes that collectively have about 1,300 units. The apartments were originally built as student housing over a seven-year period, between 1995 and 2002. Residents have spoken against the project, emphasizing its effect would displace them.
Quad South is one of five apartment complexes that Presidium Group proposes razing to make way for a massive new mixed-use development along East Riverside Drive and South Pleasant Valley Road. Image: Google Streets
The council is slated to meet Aug. 22 to consider final approval for rezoning of the five tracts that make up the project site. The requested rezoning and corridor mixed-use designation will permit more uses, density and height across the development.
The red marks the tracts that Presidium Group asked to rezone to support 97 acres of new mixed-use development with apartments, office, retail and hospitality space. Image: City of Austin
Representing the developers, Austin attorney Michael Whellan described the prospective project as something that could transform the neighborhood, and help the city’s long-range goals of building up affordable housing stock and providing improvements in transit options, walkability and low impact to the surrounding environment.
Whellan said the development would include 12 acres of complete streets with wide sidewalks and street trees, 14 total acres of public parkland, increase connectivity between Roy Guerrero and Mabel Davis parks, and remove nine acres of existing impervious cover from the floodplain.
Pledging the project will include 400-565 new affordable housing units, Whellan said the development would be one of the biggest privately funded commitments to affordable housing in Austin’s urban core.
Even at the high number of 565, that is barely 12 percent of the total units planned and it would replace less than half of the existing affordable units. Moreover, the term “affordable housing” here is questionable since private sector developers typically consider an 80 percent of area median income their target for affordable and that is still often a higher rent than what most people in student or workforce housing can afford.
Despite Whellan’s pledges, Council members Delia Garza and Gregory Casar denied preliminary approval of the rezonings, sharing the concerns expressed by some residents and neighbors of the existing apartments about gentrification, displacement and social inequity.
Even if rezoning gets final approval, the project would be subject to council consideration of conceptual and full design renderings and site plans, as well as the building permit process.
According to Whellan, if all goes well, the first buildings in the development could open in 2023, but that overall construction across the property could take 10 to 20 years to complete.
East Riverside has seen much development in recent years, including upscale apartments and Oracle Corp.’s construction of a new office campus.
Presidium is responsible for a number of multi-family developments in the Austin, Dallas and San Antonio areas. Presidium developed Solaris, Vue and Edison communities in Austin, among others.
Presidium and Nimes Capital acquired most of the properties under consideration between 2014-2016. They have a combined assessed value on the county tax rolls of about $177 million.
The entire Project Catalyst concept would span the distance from East Riverside Drive to South Lakeshore Boulevard by Lady Bird Lake. Courtesy: JLL.
Edmond Ortiz is a lifelong San Antonian and a 20-plus-year veteran in local journalism, He previously worked full-time at the San Antonio Express-News, and has been freelancing for outlets such as the Rivard Report.