A housing development that launched a years-long debate over the character of the Linden Hills neighborhood won unanimous approval from a council panel Thursday.

Following testimony from a many neighbors who oppose the project, the council's zoning and planning committee signed off on the four-story Linden Crossing condominium development at 43rd and Upton Avenue South. The vote is subject to approval from the full council next Friday.

The project debated Thursday is actually the third iteration of the plan, which began as a more massive five-story building, morphed into a three-story one and then became a four-story structure with the top floor set back from the street. It also features about 6,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.

"What we're creating here is an experience that feels like three stories, and will be a great addition to the neighborhood," developer Mark Dwyer told the committee.

Much of the neighborhood criticism has centered on the height of the building, which some feel is out of line with the rest of the area.

"This particular corner has small buildings, low buildings, so that the sense of community, the sense of scale and the sense of charm is maintained," said Nicki Stenzler, who opposed the project. "This is the heart of Linden Hills."

Photo: The proposed site of the development, now home to a closed Famous Dave's restaurant.

Reducing the mass and height of the building has driven up the price of the units. Dwyer said units in the original plan would cost between $400,000 and $450,000, whereas these will be between $650,000 and $1.4 million. The construction will use concrete, unlike many of the stick-frame buildings that have been erected in other neighborhoods.

"As a city, when we give away density ... we have to create a higher-end product," Dwyer said.

Residents at Thursday's meeting wore signs reading "C1 ≠ C2," a reference to two commercial zoning classifications. Some argued that the granting of a conditional use permit for a 56-foot building made it akin to developments in more densely zoned districts.

"For me, it's effectively rezoning that node by the back door," said Christopher Maddox, a project opponent.

But city staff noted that such permits, which allow for greater heights if certain conditions are met, have been granted at half the projects that have been built outside of downtown in the last five years.

"A conditional use permit is essentially an allowed use, subject to a condition," said the city's planning manager Jason Wittenberg. "You have to have a strong basis to deny."

Dwyer has been seeking to build the project for many years. Thursday's proposal is just 57 percent of the square footage of his initial plan, Linden Corner, which was rejected by the City Council. That project was just three feet higher, however.