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David Mirvish, left, 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. (Photo by Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The job of finding a compromise on the controversial three-tower condo development on King Street West designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry has been handed to a panel of experts and local citizens.

Toronto councillor Adam Vaughan, who represents the ward that includes the Entertainment District site owned by David Mirvish, will chair the new 14-member working group created to prevent a faceoff before the Ontario Municipal Board.

City planners and area residents have voiced opposition to the development. Planning staff take issue with the height and density, and the potential demolition of four heritage properties.

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Mr. Vaughan said he, city planning staff, and the developer will select the panel of "prominent Torontonians." Council approved its creation in a vote late on Wednesday night.

"The two sides have dug in and it's led to a stalemate. We are trying to reconcile the opportunity with the challenges," Mr. Vaughan said.

The panel will report to council no later than March 20. In addition to Mr. Vaughan, the group will include the chair of the city's planning committee, Councillor Peter Milczyn, a planning staff member, a representative for the developer and three community members. It also would include representatives from the local business association, OCAD University, which is expected to have space in the new buildings, Heritage Toronto, the Toronto Preservation Board, an urban planner, an architect and an art administrator.

The group would be required to hold at least one public meeting.

A mediator would be retained to settle any issues the working group cannot resolve.

A spokesperson for Mr. Mirvish said he would not comment at this time.

Peter Kofman, president of Projectcore Inc., a developer and project manager that is working on the Mirvish development, described the decision as a positive step forward.

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"It moves the process along," he said.

The Mirvish team had meetings with city planners in recent weeks, but were not able to see eye to eye.

"Height is one issue. The way the buildings sit on the site is another. The heritage buildings are issues," Mr. Kofman said.

City staff proposed that the condo project essentially be shrunk, in large part by decreasing its height, a suggestion that was rejected by the Mirvish group.

"The project doesn't work on a certain level when it gets too small," Mr. Kofman said. "We're trying to do an awful lot with this project that is non-revenue-generating, it will have public amenities and public accessibility. The public benefits of what we're proposing are pretty significant, and to take away 30 per cent of what we're proposing, it just wasn't going to work."

City staff are also worried about traffic in the area, but Mr. Kofman says that many of the people who live in the condos will live and work downtown and likely walk or use transit.

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He said that he is hopeful this new process will result in a resolution, but also added "we're not going to turn the OMB process off."

The condo proposal calls for three towers of 82, 84 and 86 storeys, with a total of 2,709 units. Mr. Mirvish wants the project completed quickly, in part because Mr. Gehry is 84, and decided last month he would appeal to the OMB because of the difficulty he was having winning over city staff. The board has scheduled a pre-hearing conference for January.

At a committee meeting last month, Mr. Mirvish indicated that his group has 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.

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

The proposal was forwarded to this month's council meeting without recommendation by the area community council.

Mr. Vaughan said he expects members of the panel will be named early in the new year.

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