More protests expected over Riverside Drive development project

A maintenance crew was busy Thursday morning removing protest banners and graffiti around several East Austin apartments.

The complexes are targeted to be replaced if Austin City Council approves a rezoning request for a massive redevelopment on Riverside Drive. Those opposed to the project have disrupted previous city council meetings resulting in their arrest.

To help push the measure through council, the property owners announced a deal Wednesday with a homeless advocacy coalition.

Michael Whellan who represents the development team rejected the assumption the deal was done to appease the opposition.

"My goal is not to appease anything or anybody," Whellan said. "My goal is to be sure that we have the right balance of community benefits that make sense for a project is going to redevelop."

The deal involves providing 100 people in Austin’s homeless community with temporary housing. They'd be placed in the existing apartment units while the new development is built. That's on top of units already designated for affordable housing.

"What we have estimated is 400 to 565 units depending on the square footage, which would be the largest affordable housing commitment in a private development in the urban core, I think in Austin history, it's worth $90 million,” said Whellan.

Despite that effort, Michael Whellan is targeted by a group called Defend Our Hoodz. The militant organization posted on its Twitter how members earlier this week went to Whellan's home to stage a protest. On Thursday Whellan declined to condemn the protest.

“I think people have the right to free speech and that's really all I have to say ... I think people have a right to free speech and with US Constitution,” said Whellan.

The group has also targeted Councilmember Sabino "Pio" Renteria. During a council meeting last month, he had this to say about a recent incident in front of his home.

"When I had a group of young people with red masks coming to my house cursing, cursing my wife, intimidating and scaring my little dog it's just disgusting,” said Renteria.

During the incident at Whellan's home, the protesters got into confrontations with his neighbors and with Austin police called to the scene.

"We have rules on encroaching on the road, we have rules regarding person’s private property, we have rules and laws about sound violations, and so those are things that we pay attention to,” Chief Brian Manley said. 

Manley said he supports free speech, but not aggressive actions that become harassment.

"And I think sometimes that gets lost in someone's zeal to get their message out, that they're targeting one person and one home but they were impacting often time at least a street and probably a larger neighborhood with their protest,” Manley said.

The project will be done in phases, taking 10 to 20 years to complete.