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Homes near Haskin Park deserve better from city, Google

January 19, 2017 GMT

Haskin Park, on the city’s Northeast Side, is but an acre in size.

The Google Fiber hut built at the park is only irksome to a handful of homeowners who have to live with it. Arguably, that makes this a small issue for a project that will bring true high speed internet to the entire city.

But the hut’s construction is emblematic of larger civic and governance principles that need to be made right with residents. The hut is a dull brown, surrounded by a tall wooden fence. It is ugly and best suited for a commercial setting. Its air-conditioning units are said to be loud. The city of San Antonio and Google did an atrocious job of communicating with residents about the hut.

For months, residents who live around Haskin Park have been arguing, among other things, that the hut mars their view of precious open space and has likely hurt their property values. They felt blindsided by its construction — a point city officials acknowledge, although they blame Google for the poor communication.

The hut at Haskin Park is one of two that have been constructed. City Manager Sheryl Sculley recently announced 15 other sites have been placed on hold for review. City staff is recommending no more huts be built on parkland.

Given some of the other issues that have arisen with these huts — one was proposed for a vacant lot between two homes — a pause is warranted, and yet lacking. The city has said the Haskin hut will stay.

Like any NIMBY dispute — “Not in my back yard” — this one is marked by technicalities. Residents say the hut’s footprint, 1,600 square feet with fencing, is huge. City officials say it is small. Residents say there should have been public hearings. City officials say the hut qualifies as a utility and is exempt from such hearings.

The city’s actions are inconsistent. If it’s inappropriate to place such a hut between two residences or at other parks, why is it appropriate to keep this hut near residences at Haskin Park?

Ideally, the city and Google should move the Haskin Park hut to a different location. There is an argument that technical reasons might make that harder to do than it sounds. Yet there are potential ways the city and Google could make things as right as possible: Make the hut look like a cottage, add significant landscaping, upgrade fencing at nearby homes so no one sees the hut from their yards, offer the highest level of Google Fiber for free.

Google Fiber is a welcome and exciting development for San Antonio. It is good for consumers and economic development. But small issues like this can also be big headaches for homeowners — and they shouldn’t be overlooked or dismissed.