I just can’t quit East Riverside. Between Oracle’s massive new office campus in Lakeshore and the general trend of new projects springing up all the way out to Montopolis and beyond, there’s a reason I keep crawling back. Don’t even get me started on the potential of the Project Catalyst development — point is, there’s suddenly a lot going on in a part of Austin nobody paid attention to for years.
The area’s ongoing gentrification combined with an overwhelming demand for housing in the city steered the evolution of East Riverside in a strange direction, at least regarding its balance between multifamily and retail development. The growing “retail gap” created by the region’s residential growth rate outrunning the expansion of its retail offerings means, at worst, parts of the district resemble a sea of apartments with nothing to do, eat, buy, or see.
There are exceptions, of course, but as I look at the projects currently on the boards for the first mile or so of East Riverside Drive, I see an emerging neighborhood crying out for smarter growth. That’s a problem you could partially solve through mixed-use development, adding retail components to multifamily projects so new apartments contribute to the neighborhood’s identity rather than serving exclusively as kennels for people — and it appears at least one developer agrees with me.
Thanks to new city documents and an exclusive rendering from Houston-based developer Urban Genesis, we’ve got a first look at upcoming mixed-use development South Shore Highline, a five-story project squeezing 103 apartments and ground-floor retail into a 1.27-acre plot at 2435 East Riverside Drive, a stone’s throw away from the intersection at South Pleasant Valley Road. Construction should kick off in the summer of 2018, with an estimated completion date sometime in the fall of 2019.
The building is designed by Addison firm BGO Architects, who already have some presence in the local market. Despite its relatively small size, South Shore Highline will provide parking — half on the surface behind the building, and half underground. The project’s single curb cut will provide access from East Riverside Drive on the western side of the lot, as you can see in the rendering above.
Although there are a few other contenders in the planning stages, currently this development represents one of the easternmost mixed-use projects of its type south of the river. The building’s compact design is driven by a unique location — the site is a vaguely triangular, gradually sloping piece of land between an auto parts store and another apartment complex.
Urban Genesis, by the way, is an interesting firm. An article from earlier this year in the Houston Business Journal described the developer’s approach in the Houston and Dallas markets:
“I saw the writing on the wall — the sharing economy, student loan debt, credit card debt, social programs going belly up,” said Matt Shafiezadeh, who oversees strategy and investments at Urban Genesis. “We want to do affordable apartments in unaffordable neighborhoods.”
[ . . . ]
Shafiezadeh, formerly with real estate investment giant The Lionstone Group, and his business partner and adviser Jein Gadson, formerly with financial consulting firm Deloitte, are focused on a different segment of the market. They want to create market-rate apartments that will appeal to what Shafiezadeh calls the “missing middle” — average Houstonians looking for affordable, safe apartments in desirable neighborhoods close to work and amenities.
[ . . . ]
In the summer of 2016, Urban Genesis broke ground on its first apartment project in the eclectic Bishop Arts neighborhood in Dallas. The first in a series called the High Line, the five-story, 180-unit garden-style apartment project will offer 500 to 880-square-foot units, with “affordable” rents still to be determined. Urban Genesis hopes to develop more High Line apartments in its three Texas markets.
— Houston Business Journal, May 27, 2017
It’s neat to see a developer focused on delivering moderately-priced housing in a city where there’s not necessarily an overwhelming incentive to do so. I spoke with Shafiezadeh today about the South Shore Highline project to nail down a few specifics — for starters, what does “affordable” mean in Austin?
He’s not giving out exact rates just yet, but he says we can expect the 103 units at the project to rent for roughly $200 to $400 less per month than other area housing — a considerable amount I’ll be aggressively fact-checking the moment this building’s units hit the market.
It appears that Shafiezadeh and his firm also share my fascination with the evolution of the region. “We believe in the value of the East Riverside corridor,” he says. “People are underestimating the impact of Oracle on the area’s rate of growth.”
This side of town, he explains, is “designed for growth,” due to a favorable combination of density-friendly zoning and close proximity to downtown, along with quick access to nearby highways and the airport. He says Urban Genesis is confident in their product, but it was this design — along with Oracle and other promising nearby plans — that drove their decision to develop. “It’s not a coincidence,” he says. Finally, someone who shares my enthusiasm for all things Riverside!
It’s worth noting that the site is directly across from the large median space of East Riverside Drive where Capital Metro sought to build a station for its proposed Project Connect urban rail plan — a detail early marketing materials for this site mentioned prominently. Local voters shot that plan down back in 2014, but it’s a good bet that increasing density in the region could motivate the city to give urban rail in the area a second look.
Shafiezadeh mentioned that Urban Genesis hopes to eventually bring three Highline-branded apartment developments to the Austin area. For another twist, he also confirmed that the project’s retail component, which at the moment comprises about five to seven individual spaces on the building’s ground floor facing East Riverside Drive, wouldn’t include restaurants.
This may be due to the small footprint of the project preventing the developer from providing enough parking spaces for a restaurant, but Shafiezadeh says Urban Genesis wants uses that better serve the building’s actual residents — retail stores, dry cleaning, “maybe a barbershop.”
One last thing — don’t get too worked up about the sidewalk design in the above rendering that segregates pedestrians from cyclists while completely exposing the latter to traffic on East Riverside Drive. That’s apparently the only element of the rendering that’s out of date, and Shafiezadeh says the widened sidewalk in front of the building is no longer divided. Good call, my man.