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Advisory group seeks compromise on Gehry condo project

David Mirvish and architect Frank Gehry were together for a press conference at the AGO in Toronto on October 1, 2012. The men were there to speak about a new development along King Street west in Toronto, that Gehry is designing for Mirvish.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

An 18-member advisory group that includes a retired bank chief executive, a former dean of architecture, local residents and businesses has begun meetings to look for a compromise on the controversial Frank Gehry condo towers planned for King Street West.

The group, created last month in an attempt to prevent an expensive show-down before the Ontario Municipal Board, met for the first time in private on Tuesday. It is planning at least one public meeting, Councillor Adam Vaughan said. Mr. Vaughan represents the ward that includes the site of entrepreneur David Mirvish's proposed three-tower development and will chair the group. Other members include former TD bank CEO Charles Baillie; the past dean of the University of Toronto's faculty of architecture, landscape and design, Larry Richards; three representatives of the developer including Mr. Mirvish; and city planning staff. Mr. Baillie was president of the board of trustees of the Art Gallery of Ontario during its most recent renovation by Mr. Gehry and was selected for his experience an "art administrator."

Developer and project manager Peter Kofman, a member of the panel who is working with Mr. Mirvish on the proposal, said he hopes the group can have a constructive discussion that leads to a great project.

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"The best outcome, I suppose, would be to come up with a really great project that gets us to a place where everybody is satisfied," Mr. Kofman said.

The developer is continuing with its OMB application for ruling on the development proposal while the group is meeting, he said.

In addition to the condo towers, the proposed development would include a gallery for Mr. Mirvish's private art collection and facilities for OCAD University. OCAD president Sara Diamond also is a member of the group.

City planners and area residents have voiced opposition to the proposed towers of 82, 84 and 86 storeys, which would require the demolition of the Princess of Wales Theatre and heritage warehouse properties.

The panel will report to council no later than March 20. A mediator would be retained to settle any issues the working group cannot resolve.

Mr. Mirvish has expressed his desire to complete the project quickly, in part because Mr. Gehry is 84, and decided in November to appeal to the OMB because of the difficulty he was having winning over city staff.

At a planning committee meeting in November, Mr. Mirvish said his group spent $1-million on studies that say the project would not overtax infrastructure such as sewers and transportation. He estimates that 60 per cent of the residents would walk to work in the neighbourhood.

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At that same meeting, Mr. Gehry likened his distinctive design to "a candelabra with three candlesticks," compared to the city's "lookalike" glass towers.

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