Google Fiber huts get push back from Historic and Design Review Commission

Design proposals sent back Wednesday for already-built huts

By Courtney Friedman - VJ, Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - There has been another push back on the city and Google over Google Fiber telecommunication huts placed in city parks. Now it's not just the residents who aren't happy with the huts, it's the Historic and Design Review Commission.

After a heated meeting, the commission sent back Google's proposal, asking for more details.

The huts are part of Google Fiber's infrastructure, a way to bring faster internet to San Antonio. However, their recent placement in Haskin and West End parks have caused chaos.

"It had a park atmosphere, and now that hut completely blocks my view. So when I look that way, all I see is that and I hear when it goes online, there's going to be noise," said Cynthia Franklin, who lives next to Haskin Park.

Franklin is one of many neighbors who are furious they had no say in the matter.

"I'm a government teacher. I know there are procedures, notices that are supposed to be posted. They're supposed to hold hearings. We should have had a chance to have input," Franklin said.

Deputy city manager Peter Zanoni said there was a time for public input when the plans were being drawn up two years ago. However, he admits that wasn't near enough communication.

"Notice for that Haskin Park was limited. That's why the city added a whole team to augment these two companies [AT&T and Google Fiber] to increase communication, to better inform the community of the construction schedule and events related to their fiber installation," Zanoni said.

Residents also said it wasn't right to have a private company's building in a public park.

To that, Zanoni said, "This facility is a utility, like a CPS voltage transformer, or utility, like AT&T telephone cabinets. They can be placed in parks and they are today. If you look at parks in our community, there are several utilities like this in community parks."

Zanoni addressed community concern that workers would have 24/7 access to the huts, even though these parks close to the public from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. He said work will be done during park hours, and like other utilities, they will only use the area after park hours in an emergency, like an outage at night.

Residents brought up another big issue they have at Wednesday's Historic and Design Review Commission meeting.

"The appropriateness was never sought in advance as it should be," Highland Park Neighborhood Association President Richard Medillin said at the podium.

At the meeting, Google was requesting to put up fences and landscaping at West End Park and at Haskin Park.

The Historic Preservation commissioners said they didn't know the huts, fences or landscaping were being installed. Residents said Google should have gotten approval from the commission before starting work.

"I'm looking for someone who can give me an explanation," said Michael Guarino, Historic and Design Review Commission chairman.

"We didn't feel that advisory input from the HDRC would be needed since council already approved the contract and that included the design in the lease," Zanoni said at the podium. "In the future, we'll go to the HDRC before any fencing and landscaping is put in."

The Historic and Design Review Commission ultimately did not deny Google's requests for fences and landscaping, but sent them back to the Historic and Design Review Commission for further study. They want a more thorough and detailed proposal.

After this push back, Zanoni said the other 15 hut locations, including locations in four other parks, are now under review.

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