LAFAYETTE -- After nearly six years of study, seemingly countless meetings and intense deliberation, city leaders have approved a plan they say will help Lafayette preserve its semirural character while fulfilling regional housing requirements and accommodating future growth.

The city council on Monday unanimously approved the Downtown Lafayette Specific Plan following more than two hours of questions, comments and public testimony about the merits and drawbacks of the proposal. The council also approved amending the city's general plan to allow building heights of up to 45 feet, and three stories, under strict conditions and only with council permission. Also greenlighted was the specific plan's much-criticized environmental impact report.

Council members acknowledged the highly debated plan has divided residents.

"I'm really concerned that this process has created a wedge in this community," said Vice Mayor Mike Anderson. Mayor Carol Federighi echoed Anderson's observation that some healing was needed and said she hoped the plan had "enough teeth" and guidelines to continue the city's enhancement.

"I hope we can heal because I do recognize there is a feeling that this is a train headed inexorably in one direction," she said.

That direction, some residents have argued, is one of dense growth and soaring buildings proposed by developers lured by the city's greater height limits. During previous hearings, residents have continuously railed against allowing multifamily housing downtown "by right" and attacked the plan's environmental impact report. That document lists six unavoidable impacts -- including increased air pollution and traffic -- that would result from the downtown specific plan's implementation.

The city has drafted a statement saying that the project's benefits, including fulfillment of state-required affordable housing numbers, outweigh its drawbacks. Under the Regional Housing Needs Allocation overseen by the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Lafayette is being required to show it can provide 426 units of very-low to above-moderate-income housing between 2014 and 2022; much of that is envisioned in the city's core, near transit.

One critic read a letter from former Lafayette Mayor Ivor Sampson saying the plan had created a schism in the community and was being rammed down the public's throat. One asked to what extent housing requirements and the penalties of not meeting them trumped the needs of residents. Another talked about the traffic problem in Lafayette worsening under the new plan.

Supporters countered that the plan embraced sustainability, and said it was unfortunate that traffic couldn't be mitigated. But they said that it is part of the nature of "our changing world."

After making slight modifications and discussing the possibilities of future amendments to the plan, council members thanked all involved before voicing their own support.