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D.C. United stadium still has zoning hurdles to clear

A potential final vote, which would allow the start of construction, may come at the next hearing in February

At another lengthy hearing Wednesday night, D.C. United once again went under the scrutiny of the Zoning Commission in their bid to build a stadium at Buzzard Point. The meeting consisted of 45 minutes of testimony from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6D Chairman Andy Litsky. That was followed by testimony by individuals both for and against the stadium plan, ending with United’s rebuttal through two expert witnesses.

There was a vote at the end of the proceedings, though not the one that United stadium supporters were hoping for. A vote of 3-0-2 (one commissioner abstaining, one commissioner absent) meant that the Zoning Commission gave their proposed approval for the Buzzard Point stadium, setting the stage for a meeting on February 16 which might result in a final action vote. Commissioner Michael Turnbull was absent for the entire meeting, and Commissioner Peter May abstained from voting, indicating that he was hesitant to move the project forward, especially with Turnbull not in attendance.

The proposed approval vote means that now, the National Capital Planning Commission will have 30 days to review and comment on the Planned Unit Development for the stadium site. The NCPC is the federal planning agency that has oversight of projects within Washington, D.C. Even though this is a city project, the federal government still has a say in the plan, even if they might offer little in the way of resistance.

B&RU was told after the meeting that the proposed approval (that is, sending the plan to NCPC) wasn’t necessary due to the fact that the PUD is a consolidated PUD. And it was never likely that this first meeting — last night’s get-together was a continuation of the first hearing from November 28th — would result in a final action vote, even though that is a vote that the Zoning Committee could have made.

Chairman Litsky’s testimony lasted for 45 minutes, and didn’t really address the stadium itself. It appears that ANC 6D has accepted the plan for the stadium itself, but is now strictly focused on everything that comes along with the stadium - in this case the health of the surrounding neighbors and the transportation plan. As pointed out later by Phil Feola, of United’s land use counsel Goulston & Storrs, many of the objections from Litsky were broader, going beyond the scope of the stadium project. But the commission seemed to note that while those issues might not be directly related to the stadium, they are still arising from the fact that a stadium might be built at Buzzard Point.

The individuals giving testimony then went next, with three proponents of the stadium plan. Two of those were from the Local 23 Union, a workers’ union that is in favor of the stadium and the jobs that it would create. The 14 opponents of the stadium plan that provided testimony were mostly residents of the Southwest neighborhoods surrounding the stadium site. Most of the emotionally charged testimony came from this group, with several vocal in their opposition to the stadium at Buzzard Point, as opposed to being against the stadium plan.

There was also one undeclared witness, Kristin Taddei of Casey Trees. Ms. Taddei spoke out against the proposed 3% tree canopy cover that the current plan proposed, and instead said that Casey Trees wished to keep a 15% canopy that was present before work on the stadium site began.

United then was afforded time to present rebuttals, and focused on the environmental impact of the stadium, as well as the transportation plan. Anita Broughton, a Senior Vice President at Haley & Aldrich, Inc. gave a rebuttal in which she said that four monitors were already set up at the site to check for issues that might arise from construction. Dust and other chemicals getting away from the site is a major concern with residents living so close, but the monitors are set up to go off if the dust reaches a certain threshold.

At this point in the meeting, Chairman Anthony Hood asked the ANC if the information that United was giving out at that point was consistent with what they had been telling the public in previous meetings. There seemed to be a disconnect in what the residents were bringing up in their opposition testimony and what United was saying in their rebuttal in terms of the worries of the environmental impact. Commissioner Rhonda Hamilton, who had attended the meetings on behalf of ANC 6D, confirmed that it was in fact the same information as the previous meetings.

Rob Schiesel of Gorove/Slade Associates, Inc. then provided the rebuttal for the transportation plan. Schiesel said that he disagreed with the ANC’s notion that the transportation plan was non-existent, saying that there had been plans in place for years. Schiesel then said it was the idea that a Traffic Operations and Parking Plan (TOPP) would be finished six to nine months before the opening of the stadium, with a plan set in stone about a month out of the stadium’s operation.

That then led to the proposed approval at the end of the meeting. Commissioner May, who is a D.C. United season ticket holder, abstained from voting, noting his worries about unanswered questions, and the absence of Commissioner Turnbull. However, Chairman Hood, Peter Shapiro, and Robert Miller all voted in the affirmative, setting in motion the decision to set the next meeting for February 16th.