Since last summer, Buzzard Point has received a lot of attention as the potential new home for DC United, DC’s Major League Soccer team. But, as another soccer season begins, big questions still loom as to when a deal will take place and how it will affect the residents of Southwest. Many DC residents, including those living near the stadium site, are excited about the prospect of a new home for DC United, but Southwest residents want to make sure it is done the right way, by working with the community to work out the many issues that accompany a development of this scale. In response to these concerns, the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly partnered with the Fiscal Policy Institute and other organizations to form the Winning Goal Coalition.
The initial agreement to build a soccer stadium was announced last July by Mayor Gray and DC United. Under the agreement, the District would help the team by assembling the land for a stadium, acquiring parcels at Buzzard Point through a complicated series of land transactions. The District would then lease the land to the team for $1 a year. DC United would be responsible for constructing the stadium itself.
Eight months later, the planning needed to deal with the complexities of building another stadium in Southwest seems nonexistent, and a meaningful response to community concerns has yet to transpire. Buzzard Point’s land-locked geography, inadequate infrastructure, environmental concerns, and proximity to Nationals Park pose challenges that must be addressed and that make the project seem very ambitious, especially its March 2017 completion date.
The peninsular geography of Buzzard Point makes a new stadium difficult for two reasons: transportation constraints and general lack of space for the proposed development. With only four small streets leading into the area, traffic bottlenecks are a major concern. This is compounded by the traffic caused by Nationals Park, which has an overlapping season with DC United. The District has been discussing transportation and land use plans for Buzzard Point, including a streetcar study, but opportunities for meaningful community participation have been limited, and it is unclear how these plans are coordinated with the stadium plans.
Residents are also concerned about the possible loss of affordable housing and displacement of low-income families, especially since Buzzard Point has a large concentration of affordable units in the immediate area, including the Greenleaf and Syphax Gardens housing developments. With such little land to accommodate development, the District should make a firm commitment to preserving these units.
The environmental impact of a new stadium also needs to be thoroughly assessed before any deal progresses. A Pepco substation and a scrap yard are among the industrial facilities currently occupying the proposed stadium site. Environmental remediation could be extensive. In March, the Mayor Gray administration kicked off a Buzzard Point Planning Framework Study after a productive Coalition meeting with DC Council Economic Development Committee Chair Muriel Bowser. Shortly thereafter, the Department of General Services announced a mitigation strategy, but the community leaders found the strategy to be inadequate. Complicating matters, a thorough analysis cannot be done until the stadium land is acquired by the District.
If the District is to move forward with the Buzzard Point site, something many residents support, the city and DC United have an obligation to thoroughly evaluate the risks to the neighborhood, mitigate those risks, and make commitments that benefit residents. Elected officials and community members are increasingly calling for traffic studies, environmental assessments, affordable housing, and to know how the stadium would tie into surrounding neighborhoods. The results of these inquiries will be vital in protecting current residents and creating a foundation for a meaningful community benefits package within the stadium agreement.
With or without a stadium, the District needs a plan for the responsible development of Buzzard Point. Policymakers can and will continue discussions with DC United, but a transparent process with meaningful community engagement is needed.
By: Wes Rivers
Wes Rivers is a Policy Analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, a member of the Winning Goal Coalition