WALNUT CREEK -- City leaders hope the first large retail and housing development to be built in decades will have ripple effects, including reviving nearby aging commercial centers, drawing employers back to the business park and creating a shopping hub on the east side of town.

After nearly three years, 25 public meetings and countless hours of public comment, The Orchards -- a Safeway-anchored mixed-use center -- at Ygnacio Valley and Oak Grove roads was approved by the City Council on Tuesday night. Construction is scheduled to begin later this year and be finished in late 2015.

All council members lauded the plan, saying the loss of trees and added traffic are outweighed by the benefits the community will receive.

Besides restaurants, retail shops, a health club, outdoor dining and rooftop parking, there will be open outdoor plazas, a community room available for groups' use, a splash area for children, 4 acres of open park space and a mile-long meandering trail through the development.

But for city leaders, the focus was how redeveloping the site will be a boon not only for residents but also for the Shadelands Business Park.

"It creates an economic development opportunity out there for people to work where they live and play where they live, as well," Mayor Kristina Lawson said Tuesday. "Once it's up and running, this is going to be a great asset to those neighborhoods. It's going to have a real sense of community."

Safeway-operated Property Development Centers has been pushing for years to develop the property, already home to some of the grocery giant's corporate offices.

On Tuesday, Lawson reopened the public hearing on The Orchards after continuing it from June 3.

This project, controversial from the start (especially for nearby neighbors), continued to have its detractors who worry about traffic and the loss of 199 trees, including 30 trees highly protected because of their age or species. Increased competition with Nob Hill in the Citrus Marketplace, across Oak Grove Road from The Orchards site, is another serious concern; neighbors claim a third grocery store in the area is not necessary. And once Safeway moves out of its current location in the Encina Grande center across the street, Whole Foods is set to move in.

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Simmons said he assumed from the beginning that allowing The Orchards would likely lead to a nearby grocery store closure. But that, he said, is part of the revitalization the area needs.

"The larger and more significant urban decay problem is that caused by the current vacancy rate in the Shadelands (Business Park), which the city is trying to address," he said. "I think the retail component of this project will be a significant benefit to Shadelands."

According to a study conducted as part of the environmental report, the center is expected to generate $82.7 million a year in sales.

Others worry that Safeway Inc.'s impending purchase by Cerberus Capital Management will mean the Oak Grove/Ygnacio Valley property will be sold, and for something other than the proposed Orchards project.

"When Wal-Mart buys this, all the people who came in front of you with the 'yeses' will be back here with the 'nos,'" said resident Bill Ogden. "I hope I am not back to tell you I told you so."

But Councilwoman Cindy Silva said a big box store like Wal-Mart could never build on the property because the city's general plan does not allow for it; it only allows for a store the size of Safeway.

The council unanimously approved the general plan amendment allowing the change from office space to mixed use, but Simmons couldn't support the 200 units of senior housing because he thinks Walnut Creek needs to focus on building for younger residents.

His colleagues disagreed.

"This allows people to move from their homes in Walnut Creek and allows the next generation to come in and enjoy our schools and the larger homes that we do have," Silva said.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.