SG passes resolution asking Austin City Council to vote against Riverside redevelopment

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Michael Whellan, left, answers questions from Student Government representatives about new commercial developments that are set to affect students residing in the Riverside area during a meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019.

Photo Credit: Kidus Solomon | Daily Texan Staff

Student Government passed a resolution Tuesday asking Austin City Council to either vote against redeveloping Riverside or provide more affordable student housing.

Prompted by the upcoming council vote to potentially redevelop Riverside, SG discussed the possible demolition of 1,308 mainly student-occupied apartment units in Ballpark North, Town Lake and the Quad East, West and South. The authors of the resolution also asked other SG members to join a silent protest in front of Austin City Hall after the vote on Thursday.

SG fast-tracked the proposed resolution before passing it in a 24-4 vote. 

“Riverside is a bastion of affordability in an increasingly unaffordable housing market in Austin, especially around campus,” said Rylan Maksoud, an author of the resolution and the SG housing policy director. “The main reason (SG) is taking action to stop this is to give a student voice to something where a student voice has been lacking.” 

 

If the redevelopment passes, the SG resolution suggests the council revamp S.M.A.R.T. housing, a housing program for low-income students. The resolution also suggests the Council expand the application of the University Neighborhood Overlay, which allows developers to build more in inner West Campus if they make a small percentage of their housing affordable. 

“Trying to find housing as a student at UT feels like pulling a slot machine and hoping for the best,” said Maksoud, a Plan II and government junior. “If there’s any way I can make housing a little bit easier for students … I will. They shouldn’t have to worry about where they will live instead of focusing on schoolwork or friends.” 

Michael Whellan, the lawyer representing potential Riverside developers Presidium Group and Nimes Real Estate, spoke during the open forum portion of the SG meeting. He handed out documents which said redevelopment would slightly raise the rent, but there was no guarantee the rent would not rise if redevelopment does not pass. 

“We would hope that (SG) would pause and examine these documents rather than quickly going to a resolution,” Whellan said. “I didn’t consider the impact on the University, so that’s bad on me. But equally, I think (SG) should reach out to the people impacted in (its) resolutions as well.” 

Zachary Pisarski, a Cockrell School of Engineering representative, initiated a debate and said he believed fast-tracking the resolution may have lessened its value. The resolution was admitted to SG leadership on Monday and edited before and during the meeting, said Jakob Lucas, speaker of the assembly and government senior. 

“By fast-tracking (the resolution), we don’t really have time to know what’s at stake,” chemical engineering senior Pisarski said. “Even if we do go ahead and vote for this, then we’re not giving due diligence to all the complexities of it.”

Camron Goodman, student body president and a finance senior, said he also authored the resolution after students living in Riverside approached him about needing SG’s support.

“The point is to be a conversation starter with council members and not necessarily say we understand all the complexities, but we do understand the effect of all students in Riverside,” Goodman said. “That’s why part of our further resolved statements says we are open to conversations with the City Council members to talk more about (this issue).”

Editor’s note: Rylan Maksoud is a member of the Texas Student Media board.