Southwest residents have transportation, housing concerns with D.C. United deal

Southwest residents expressed concerns over transportation plans and the fate of nearby low-income housing during a hearing on a $300 million proposal to build a D.C. United soccer stadium in their neighborhood.

Residents who testified at a D.C. Council roundtable Thursday night generally supported development at the Buzzard Point site. But some, including Mary Williams, voiced grievances over the lack of community involvement in the stadium development’s planning, especially with regard to transportation.

“We need a multipurpose stadium, but this proposal is not conducive to our community,” Williams said.

The roundtable was the second of its kind in the past week led by council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), chair of the council’s Economic Development Committee. Wednesday evening’s event focused on the city’s plans for the Frank D. Reeves Center municipal building at 14th and U streets NW, which would be traded to the real estate developer Akridge in exchange for stadium land and cash. The center would redeveloped should the council approve the stadium deal.

The plan, negotiated by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), also would add a municipal building in Ward 8 and end D.C. United’s decades-long search for a stadium.

Although the Reeves Center popped up as a talking point toward the end of Thursday’s roundtable, more than 30 neighbors of the proposed stadium site testified about issues surrounding the Southwest development portion of the deal.

Several members of the public, including Advisory Neighborhood Commission member Rhonda Hamilton, said they worried about possible displacement of low-income housing near the site.

“It’s not fair to build up a city and have one set of residents to go to bed worried about how long their children will have housing and to have other residents that will always be secure with their housing,” Hamilton said.

Another Southwest resident, Melonee Bryant, demanded a written guarantee to preserve the existing affordable housing.

“It will bring in new people, it will bring in new housing,” Bryant said, “but it should not eliminate people from their existing housing who are Washingtonians that have been living down there for 30, 40, 50 or 70 years. It’s not fair.”

Hammere Gebreyes, chief of staff at the D.C. Housing Authority, said her office was working on plans to renovate housing in the immediately affected areas, but she declined to elaborate.

“We are looking at a long-term plan,” Gebreyes said. “We’ve started the planning process, but it’s still in the very early stages at this point.”

Several residents said that not enough information has been made available to the community about the addition of stadium traffic to an existing mix that includes visitors to the Washington Nationals’ baseball park.

Speakers were also skeptical of how the redevelopment would benefit local residents.

Matthew J. Klein, president of Akridge, the development company that would oversee the stadium project, said that even with the stadium completed, seven acres south of the site would remain undeveloped.

Bowser, who is the Democratic mayoral nominee, questioned how quickly Akridge would be able to develop those seven acres, echoing the concerns of Southwest residents over building a stadium in isolation.

“It’s one thing to stick a soccer stadium there, but it would be like FedEx Field unless something develops around it, and soon,” Bowser said.

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