City Council yesterday approved a zoning change that would permit two 31-story towers to be built at Broad Street and Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia as part of a $500 million residential and retail complex.

The towers have been envisioned by proponents as a gateway to the Avenue of the Arts and Center City.

However, the project already faces resistance from neighbors who have objected to any building higher than eight stories.

"We had three meetings to address this issue, and in each instance, we were against these mega-towers," said Albert J. Hicks Jr., president of the Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition, a neighbors group opposed to the towers.

But the project is the kind that Gov. Rendell, when he was mayor, encouraged for an arts corridor to welcome visitors to Center City, and he applauded Council's move, according to his spokesman.

"The governor is pleased that the avenue is extending farther south," Chuck Ardo said. "It's good news for the city."

City Councilman Frank DiCicco, over the objections of Hicks and seven other protesters who attended yesterday's Council session, introduced the legislation, which passed by a 16-1 vote.

"The gateway to the Avenue has been a vacant lot for nearly two decades," DeCicco said in a statement. "This vacancy has been a black eye to the Avenue and, more importantly, to the community for years and one that many of us have hoped to rectify. With this project, we finally have that opportunity."

The project would include 860 apartments and condominiums, 30 to 50 retail stores, and 1,500 parking spaces on about 5.5 acres. Plans include an open green space that sits six stories high atop the mall.

Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., who cast the dissenting vote, said he hadn't expected the issue to come up for a vote, given the community opposition.

"I think the matter could have been further discussed with some middle ground achieved," Goode said.

Ronald Patterson, the attorney representing developer Samir Benakmoume and his company, Rimas Properties, said the towers were originally planned for 59 stories but were reduced to 31 in negotiations with the community.

Benakmoume purchased the land over the summer for about $16 million, Patterson said.

The closest building on the scale of the Benakmoume project is the 31-story Symphony House condominiums, 11 blocks to the north.