WALNUT CREEK -- Something new is coming to the downtown: Residents.

These soon-to-be-newcomers will literally be able to step outside their door and line up for a Lesher Center production or cross the street to McCovey's for a plate of chicken wings.

In what city leaders called a "game-changer" and a new vision for what Walnut Creek can become, the City Council on Tuesday approved a 141-apartment project dubbed 1500 California. On the ground floor, more than 18,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space is planned.

"Communities that thrive over time make bold choices," said Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson. "We have a great opportunity to do something big here."

Laconia Development plans to build the 164,615-square-foot project on a 1.23-acre site, currently home to a parking lot, a Scott Valley Bank branch and the vacant California Cafe restaurant building next to the north Locust Street parking garage. Its two six-story glass towers will front California Boulevard, and its buildings form an L-shape as it rounds the corner onto Bonanza Street and then Locust. The two buildings are architecturally designed to look like several shorter structures, something council members said made the project better.

The apartments will range from studios to two-bedroom units, and there would also be an on-site gym, two rooftop terraces and a multipurpose room for activities like yoga classes.

Allowing residents downtown will infuse the area with people at all different times of day rather than just for shopping or the bar scene, said Joseph Gorny with Walnut Creek Downtown, which was formerly the Downtown Business Association.

"We think it's the most significant project going on," he said. "We need to attract young professionals into downtown Walnut Creek, and we are a city, like it or not."

There will be 208 parking spaces. Some of the residential parking will be part of a parking mechanical lift system, where a driver pushes a clicker, a door opens and the driver pulls in and parks. Cars are shifted up a floor like a revolving elevator to make room for other vehicles.

Gorny and others noted that because the project is so close to BART, it's likely those living there will have fewer cars than residents of other large apartment complexes.

The bike lane will be extended on California to front the project; for that, a few bicyclists on Tuesday expressed gratitude, though they said there should be more bike parking at the project itself.

While there had been some grumblings of concern about the project early on because of the 68-foot building height and about potential traffic impacts, no one at the meeting had a bad word to say. Lawson called the lack of criticism a testament to the design of the project and vision for the downtown.

"It is the long-term vision of this community that our newest residents will be able to live in the downtown area, which protects our open-space areas and our single-family neighborhoods," Mayor Cindy Silva said Tuesday.

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