Invigorated by the accomplishments of this council, Jeff Kohler is pursuing another term at St. Thomas city hall

city_scope_logo-cmykHe’s the longest-serving mayor/alderman/councillor currently in St. Thomas and earlier this month, Jeff Kohler declared his intention to seek another four-year term on city council.
Kohler has served in that capacity since 2010, but his introduction to municipal politics is a story unto itself.
He first threw his hat into the ring in 1997 and finished as third runner-up in that year’s municipal vote.
Referencing Eric Bunnell’s People column from April of 2000, Ald. Helen Cole had announced her resignation and council met behind closed doors to unanimously agree Kohler should fill the vacant seat.
The top vote-getter in 1997, Terry Shackelton had already moved on to council and the next hopeful in line, former alderman Hugh Shields, declined the appointment to council.

In September of 2003, Peter Ostojic chose to vacate the mayor’s office to pursue a position elsewhere in city hall and Kohler was then appointed head of council.
Later that year, he campaigned for the mayor’s position in the municipal election and was successful.
He fell short in his bid for re-election in 2006, losing to Cliff Barwick in a bitter battle.
Kohler returned to council in 2010 as an alderman.
jeff-kohler-re-election-bid-june-2022He polled 4,691 votes, second only to Lori Baldwin-Sands’ 5,366 votes.
In announcing his re-election bid, Kohler had high praise for the work accomplished by the current council, despite challenges related to the pandemic.
“This past term has been very invigorating in some of the work we’ve done and how we got the work completed.
“And the discussions, I’m not going to use the word debate, I’m going to use the word discussion we’ve used to do that and how we’ve come to the conclusions. It’s been great.”
Should he be successful in the October election, Kohler wants to zero in on the quality of life in St. Thomas, with particular attention to affordable housing, transit and low, competitive taxes.
“Affordable housing is one of the key factors for that (quality of life). And when you look at how we’ve been able to do that, taking some of the (city-owned) single-family homes and selling them off.
“Council started that and we continue to do that responsibly without impacting the other residential taxpayers in the city.”
Based on feedback from Railway City Transit users, he would like to continue with improvements to the bus system.
“We’ve done some good work in transit but over the last few weeks I’ve been getting some concerns and working with staff on some of the issues that have been brought up, we have to continue to improve on that.

“That’s something that’s always been on my mind to make sure our utilities and taxes are competitive with our neighbours.”

“I think we’ve done some good work, but definitely we need to improve and address some of the concerns people have.
“I don’t think it’s going to take much to make that system even better.”
When the new council is in place at the end of the year, Kohler stressed members have to ensure the city has adequate residential and employment lands for future growth.
“I think we need to continue to work on bringing in more residential land and industrial land within our boundaries. I think the ability to grow will help alleviate the taxes on our current residential ratepayers.
“That’s something that’s always been on my mind to make sure our utilities and taxes are competitive with our neighbours.”
The above concerns align with the issues Kohler campaigned on in 2018 when he sought re-election.

“I believe the great work the hospice people are doing and the partnership with the city will help round out the services that our great city already has.”

At that time, he put forward the necessity of “securing our future,” which can be accomplished by promoting local economic development.
He warned back then the city required more industrial land and promoted the sharing of an industrial park at St. Thomas Municipal Airport which is located in Central Elgin.
How fitting that a week ago the city announced it is in the process of acquiring more than 800 acres of farmland to attract a mega industrial development.
He also promoted the establishment of a brown-field strategy for the city, which would require the involvement of upper-tier government.
One key component of quality of life in St. Thomas, noted Kohler, is end-of-life care.
“One of the services we don’t currently have, but hopefully we’re very close to getting is some proper end-of-life care.
“I believe the great work the hospice people are doing and the partnership with the city will help round out the services that our great city already has.”
By building on the momentum generated by the present council, Kohler advised this will result in St. Thomas remaining a highly ranked community in which to live, work and play.

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From luxury condos to a miniature golf facility, the vacant lot at 79-83 Elm Street has and is experiencing some interesting what-ifs.
The property in question is immediately to the west of the entrance to Pinafore Park and at a public meeting held before the June 13 council meeting, members dealt with a proposed zoning bylaw amendment needed to permit an 18-hole miniature golf layout on the approximately two-acre parcel of land owned by Don McCaig.
It’s quite a step down from the 12-storey luxury condominium project that was to be known as the Steppes at Park Place that made headlines back in 2005 and the following year.
Don’s brother Bob McCaig sought permission for the sale or severance of a seven-foot wide strip of land along Pinafore Park to D&B Developments for the 100-unit condo development.
The land was needed to proceed with the underground parking.
The McCaigs had approached council initially in 2002 seeking title to the former park superintendent’s house and garage along with 1.45 acres to be used as a green space for Steppes at Park Place.
Here’s where it gets interesting because all of this played a potential role in the eventual construction of what is now the Joe Thornton Community Centre.
The above parcel of land was to be included in an offer to purchase 7.2 acres of former railway lands from Bob McCaig for the proposed twin-pad arena.
In the years since, the Elm Street property has sat vacant and now may soon attract those who love mini-golf.
Elm Street miniature golf proposal June 2022Patrick Matkowski of Monteith Brown Planning Consultants in London made a presentation to council last Monday on behalf of Vivian Campbell who is seeking to enter into a 20-year lease agreement with Don McCaig for a jungle or zoo-themed mini-golf course.
Rest assured there will be no live animals on site.
The land is currently zoned as residential and thus the need for a zoning bylaw amendment to permit such a use.
An access road to the course would run along the west side of the property behind the homes of Parkside Drive.

“I don’t want this to be a precedent for future things. Once a development takes place, someone might come and say we want to put this on residential land.”

While there appeared to be general support for such a facility, concerns were raised about taking residential land out of use, although the lot would remain zoned as residential.
The facility would include parking for 36 vehicles at the south end of the property with the intent to preserve the existing trees.
The aim is to make the course a destination for leisure activities, being adjacent to Pinafore Park while providing employment opportunities.
Coun. Steve Wookey called the proposal an outstanding recreational opportunity but expressed concerns about land use.
“I don’t want this to be a precedent for future things. Once a development takes place, someone might come and say we want to put this on residential land.

“I do have a concern about the use of this property and it’s right in what could be a wonderful residential area and we’re so desperate for residential properties.”

“I would like this to be an apartment building overlooking Central Park kind of thing.”
Hmmm, something like Steppes at Park Place that council of the day turned thumbs down on so many years ago?
Wookey continued, “I’m great with the golf course but I have concerns with this forming a precedent even though we know it’s a one-off.”
Coun. Joan Rymal wondered if 1Password Park might not be a better location for a mini-golf course.
“I do have a concern about the use of this property and it’s right in what could be a wonderful residential area and we’re so desperate for residential properties.
“Having this tied up as a golf course which is a seasonal property and not a year-round use.”
No questions or concerns were raised by any members of the public and the next step in the application process will be an amendment to the zoning bylaw which will come before council for consideration later this summer.


As noted in this corner last week, a public meeting will take place via Zoom at 10 a.m. Wednesday to consider a proposal to add two more portable classrooms at St. Anne’s Catholic Elementary School.
That’s in addition to the 14 already on site.
At the June 13 council meeting, Coun. Steve Peters referenced the situation at St. Anne’s.
“Maybe at some point, whether it is with this council or the new council, we need to meet with the new MPP (Rob Flack) and the school board (London District Catholic School Board).
Peters continued, “I was at St. Anne’s recently and the number of portables that are already on the site and now adding more, we need a commitment from the provincial government to deal with this inappropriate way for students to be learning.”

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Earlier this month, St. Thomas utility Entegrus announced it was selling its fibre optic division, Entegrus Fibre, to of London.
The latter is to take over on July 1.
A media release proclaimed the sale will give St. Thomas unparalleled fibre internet coverage, providing high speeds and quality access.
But wasn’t that supposed to happen three years ago?
On March 18 of 2019 three Entegrus executives appeared before city council to update members as the one-year anniversary of the St. Thomas Energy/Entegrus merger approached on April 1 of that year.
The trio included president and CEO Jim Hogan, Tomo Matesic, vice-president of information technology and chief financial officer Chris Cowell.
Matesic assured council that Entegrus is planning to invest heavily in a fibre optic network for the downtown core to serve business customers.
Access to high-speed internet had been a bone of contention for some time in the business and commercial community.
Entegrus did begin work on the network that June, but what changed in the intervening three years that would prompt the sale of Entegrus Fibre?
There has always been that nagging question of how much did the city have to contribute financially to become a 20.6 per cent shareholder in Entegrus?
And why did the city receive such a small share of the pie in the merger when St. Thomas Energy served 30 percent of Entegrus’ 59,000 customer base at the time?
The post below provides food for thought.

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