- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2017

D.C. United cleared the final hurdle in a decade-long push to build a Major League Soccer stadium in the District, receiving unanimous approval from the city’s zoning commission.

United executives and attorneys celebrated Thursday as the five-member panel voted to approve the club’s 19,000-seat, $300 million project at Buzzard Point in Southwest Washington.

“This is a project that’s been long in the making,” Vice Chairman Robert Miller said.

The decision came one day after United struck a deal with automaker Audi of America, officially naming the venue Audi Field.

With the zoning commission’s permission, United can move forward with construction on the 14-acre site, which sits three blocks from Nationals Park at the confluence of the Anacostia River and Washington Channel.

A groundbreaking ceremony is slated for Feb 27, with Mayor Muriel Bowser and MLS Commissioner Don Garber scheduled to attend. Club officials aim to open the venue in the summer of 2018.

In October, the city handed over the Buzzard Point location, allowing United to begin clearing and preparing the plot of undeveloped land. The zoning commission gave the team’s plan preliminary action approval in December, but also asked the city and team to address additional transportation and neighborhood issues.

The milestone comes a little more than two weeks before the team’s season opener on March 4 against Sporting Kansas City. Since the MLS’s inception in 1996, United has played at RFK, the 55-year-old, deteriorating venue two miles east of the Capitol Building on the banks of the Anacostia River.

Despite the unanimous vote tally, the commission had lingering concerns about aspects of United’s application related to transportation and the environment.

“The responses on environmental issues and traffic issues have been adequate to make it passable, but I’m still extremely disappointed,” member Peter May said. “It’s been a disappointment all the way through, so I hope it turns out better than I fear it will.”

Revisions to the application are still on the table, as commission member Michael Turnball voiced reservations over language in the application he claimed “put words in the commission’s mouth.”

He argued the application shouldered the commission with finding solutions to the community’s concerns over increased traffic, when “the onus of responsibility should be with the applicant.”

United is counting on revenue from the new stadium — which will have 31 private suites, and 500,000 square feet worth of mixed residential and retail space — to usher in a new, more ambitious era for the team.

“We are extremely excited to break ground on this site, a project that has been 21 years in the making,” said Jason Levien, who has served as United’s Managing Partner since 2012. “We appreciate all of the hard work that has gone into preparing for this moment and can’t wait to finally put shovels in the ground at the site of our new home, Audi Field.”

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