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D.C. United’s Buzzard Point Stadium still awaiting Zoning Commission approval

Jon Knight of Populous says supporters’ section will have safe standing

Presentations and cross examinations raged on for four and a half hours on Monday evening, but in the end, it wasn’t enough time for the Zoning Commission to sign off on D.C. United’s plan for a stadium at Buzzard Point. Instead, the Commission will reconvene again in two weeks, with the Advisory Neighborhood Committee (ANC) 6D still to voice their concerns on the stadium.

There were several pieces of news that came out of the meeting though, which are of interest to supporters of the Black-and-Red. Firstly, lead architect Jon Knight, of Populous, said that the north end of the stadium, where the supporters would be situated, would have safe standing. There was no expanding on this point, no word on the implementation of the safe standing, how it would work, but that news will be music to the ears of many supporters who were in favor of safe standing.

The other piece of news wasn’t quite as favorable, but not surprising as well. The constraints of the stadium due to the Pepco easement were always known, but Knight confirmed to the Zoning Commission that expansion of the stadium was not really a prospect in the future, noting that room for more seats does not exist at the site.

And United President of Business Operations Tom Hunt nailed down the capacity count of the stadium, expanding on our earlier discovery that the capacity would be 19,000. Hunt stated that there would be capacity for 19,400, with room for another 600 in standing room only, for a total of 20,000. Hunt also stated that the team hoped to be at 13,500 season tickets by the time the stadium at Buzzard Point opened, a big increase over the current number of season tickets.

The Zoning Commission, chaired by five members, shared their pleasure in some of the changes that the new stadium plan included. But there were still plenty of concerns shared by the commission, and by residents of the area, and Andy Litsky, Chairperson of ANC 6D. Much of the concern from the ZC centered around the transportation aspect of the plan, how United plan on getting people to the stadium, and how they plan to deal with the heavy amounts of traffic in the area on game days.

Peter May, one of the commissioners, always voiced concerns about the amount of bikes that the team believes will be coming and going on game days. May, who is a season ticket holder at RFK Stadium for United, also brought up the fact that the bike valet that the team has in their stadium design, is on the wrong side of the stadium, furthest away from where bikes will be arriving from. May stated that bikers would just find any spot closer to the other side of the stadium to park their bikes, making the valet obsolete to a degree.

There were also concerns about the length of the walk from the Navy Yard Metro Station, which the team is going to push as the primary station for the stadium. In addition, residents of the area are worried about increased traffic from the Waterfront Metro Station, which is just about the same distance to the stadium. Parking was also brought up, though not to the extent that the ANC will probably bring up the point when the meeting continues in two weeks.

There was also three people representing the residents of the area who were able to bring up their concerns with the stadium. Kari Fulton, who is an Environmental Justice Organizer for Empower DC, a city wide, multi-issue membership based community organizing project, asked that the approval for the planned unit development be denied “until the concerns of the community have been adequately addressed.”

Fulton also brought up the concern of the forced removal of residents of the area. Though the stadium plan does not call for the demolition of any existing houses, there is a worry that the stadium will drive up land prices in the area, which will in turn raises taxes in the area surrounding the stadium, which could force residents to move.

Two other residents brought up health issues already existing in the area, which they believe will be exasperated by the construction of the stadium, should the team and city not take steps to protect the residents.

Chairperson Litsky (ANC 6D) had time at the end to cross examine the Office of Planning (OP), District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) about their various plans for the stadium. However, Litsky was unhappy with what he called a moving target for the OP’s final plan, having stated that concerns and comments that the ANC had passed to OP had gone unanswered for at least eight months. Litsky, who will get his chance to testify in two weeks, also had plenty of questions for DDOT, who said a final transportation plan this far out in advance didn’t have much value. Sam Zimbabwe, representing the DDOT, instead proffered that a final transportation plan would be available closer to the opening of the stadium.

Litsky, as the spokesperson for ANC 6D, will likely also ask the ZC to delay their approval of the stadium plan until concerns are dealt with when he testifies on December 14th, at the continuance of the meeting. The resolution that the ANC unanimously passed back in October asked as much, and even though the ANC is still in support of the stadium itself, the changes that United made to the stadium plan since that meeting won’t appease the community enough.

What remains to be seen is whether the Zoning Commission will give it’s stamp of approval for the stadium. They raised plenty of concerns on Monday night, while also stating that they were pleased with several of the elements of the new stadium designs. Approval, if it should come on December 14th, would still allow United to begin construction on time, which Hunt said was in the first quarter (January to March) of 2017. Denial of approval would presumably push that construction start date back, at which time the team would have to come up with a solution for 2018, having already stated that they won’t return to play at RFK Stadium after the 2017 season.