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Long before construction began on his plan to remake the site of Healdsburg’s former post office with a butcher shop and cafe, Pete Seghesio said his building would make a statement —create a splash — at the prominent downtown location a block from the town Plaza.

The nearly complete Healdsburg Meat Co. building with its columned facade and detailed cornice work is certainly getting attention. But after a slew of last-minute changes made outside the public eye, including the addition of an ultra, high-end restaurant, it’s not necessarily the kind he had in mind.

The revisions, which include the elite restaurant and luxurious hotel suites to replace a smaller cafe and extended stay rooms, have sparked complaints, put Seghesio on the defensive and prompted the mayor to write a long public letter explaining what happened.

It has also added fuel to an ongoing debate over Healdsburg’s identity — whether tourism is increasingly outweighing the needs of local residents, making it a town that caters more to gourmets who can afford the $200-per-person cost of the new restaurant.

The cork-colored building — just under the city’s 50-foot maximum height allowance — is a commanding presence, occupying the site where the post office stood for four decades before it was lost to fire in 2010.

For Seghesio, 50, it was a way to bring back some of the tall, stylish Healdsburg buildings of old. “That was what we wanted to build — not just a meat company — but we wanted to build a great building. I believe that’s what we’ve done,” he said.

The fact that the Healdsburg Meat Co. building sits on the site of the lost post office, a former everyday gathering spot for the general public, has heightened people’s sensitivity.

Critics say a cherished community gathering place is being replaced by a restaurant for the “1 percent.”

“We probably don’t need another restaurant we can’t afford,” said Jack Anderson, a Healdsburg health care consultant and passer-by whose opinion was polled last week. “That said, Cyrus did well,” he said of the acclaimed two-star, Michelin-rated Healdsburg restaurant that closed in 2012, following a high-profile legal dispute with the landlord.

But some say they like the building, even if the restaurant is out of their price range.

“It’s better than the ramshackle old post office,” said Healdsburg resident Barry Maclure as he eyed the new building with approval. “It will add to Healdsburg, but I can’t afford it — the high-cost meals.”

He plans, however, to shop at the adjacent butcher shop on the ground floor when it opens, now estimated to occur in September or October.

Some have described the building in the pages of the weekly Healdsburg Tribune as an “out-of-scale monster,” while others defend it as thoughtfully designed, reflecting the historical attributes of Healdsburg, not only for its style, but its resemblance to the tall imposing building that occupied the same spot in the late 1800s.

But it’s the plans for the inside of the building that really stoked the debate. After rumors last fall that a top-notch chef might be moving into the space, Seghesio in January confirmed that superstar chef Kyle Connaughton and his farmer wife would be opening a Michelin-worthy restaurant there, dubbed Single Thread Farms Restaurant and Inn.

It stunned some longtime residents who were looking forward to the project approved two years before — a butcher shop and a 24-seat cafe that was going to feature pizza and paninis. Original plans also called for 900 square feet of retail space, three hotel rooms and almost 1,800 square feet of office space.

The latest iteration of the project has morphed into a sumptuous 55-seat restaurant where patrons will be treated to 11-course meals and California-centric wine pairings. The plan is for them to purchase meal tickets in advance, running about $200 per person.

Guests also will be able to stay in one of five luxurious suites, ranging in size from 525 to 800 square feet, each with its own fireplace.

“What once looked like a nice cafe project for locals turned out to be a super high-end tourist restaurant,” said Warren Watkins, head of Healdsburg Citizens for Sustainable Solutions, which has sought to restrict the size of hotel projects and preserve small-town character.

The original Healdsburg Meat Co. building application was subject in 2012 to public hearings by the Planning Commission and City Council before it was approved. Then late last year, without any public notice or scrutiny, it was amended to allow the new uses by then-City Manager Marjie Pettus, shortly before she retired.

Seghesio explained that his original plan was to offer “salumi,” cured meats like salami and prosciutto, in his butcher shop. But as things evolved, he decided to add locally sourced beef, hot dogs and hamburgers.

The problem, Seghesio said, is there wasn’t enough space in the building for the meat production, particularly with U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations that require raw and cooked meats be processed separately.

“We underestimated the interest. And as we got deeper into it, we underestimated the space,” he said this past week on a tour of the inside of the unfinished building on Center Street.

As a result, Seghesio decided to start a meat production plant in another part of town and has identified a couple potential sites to lease. He still intends to have a butcher shop, wine and olive oil tasting inside the Healdsburg Meat Co. But most of the interior will now be occupied by Single Thread’s restaurant and lodging.

The city acknowledges the latest plan for the Center Street site creates the need for several more parking spaces that won’t be provided for by the developer.

That’s provoked comments about crowded streets becoming even more packed by shiny Teslas and late-model German cars.

Seghesio, a winemaker whose family roots go back to great-grandparents who settled in Healdsburg in the late 1800s, said the town will benefit from having a Michelin contender, run by Connaughton, a chef, culinary educator and cookbook author who has garnered awards and accolades at restaurants in Los Angeles, London and Japan.

“The town doesn’t need another restaurant at a casual price point,” Seghesio said. “If anything, it needs a Michelin level star. It helps polish the food for the whole town.”

He said other establishments will profit when people who are drawn to the new restaurant stay two or three nights and try out different places in town.

The farm-to-table restaurant with a menu dictated by seasonal, local produce, and a farm overseen by Connaughton’s wife, Katina, will help strengthen Healdsburg’s agricultural roots, according to Seghesio.

“If our restaurants and wines are strong, our growers and farmers are strong,” he said.

City Councilman Gary Plass doesn’t quite understand the fuss over the new epicurean attraction, or complaints that it somehow leaves out in the cold the people who live and pay taxes in Healdsburg.

“I don’t get why a business moving to town is ‘ignoring locals.’ What do they want, a feed store?” Plass said.

Mayor Shaun McCaffery said the city is more concerned with zoning, land-use codes, the physical size and appearance of the building — not the restaurateur’s prices and food.

“Essentially, the City Council and Planning Commission don’t plan the menu. They don’t consider whether they have lobster thermidor, or chicken noodle soup,” he said.

“I believe there are some local folks who will enjoy this restaurant, similar to Cyrus, which we lost about three years ago,” he added.

Building architect Alan Cohen said there are still plenty of places in Healdsburg for people looking for inexpensive fare in the form of taquerias, diners, delis, pizza and fast food places.

Kyle Connaughton said his multi-course tasting menu with a three- to four-hour, single seating dining experience will allow Single Thread guests to “experience the best of what Sonoma County has to offer.” Patrons will be treated to canapes on the rooftop garden, a private tour of the greenhouse and a 360-degree view of the town and countryside. Connaughton is one of the major owners in Single Thread along with Tony Greenberg, a Manhattan real estate developer who said there are about 50 other investors.

It’s a far cry from what was originally proposed.

But as production constraints were becoming clear, Seghesio said he and his wife, Cathy, were approached by the Connaughtons. The world-class chef and his gardener wife fell in love with the building, he said, and asked to lease the main space.

That’s what led to a reconfiguration approved by the former city manager. The office space also was dropped.

Seghesio said it’s frustrating that he is getting attacked by some critics for a “bait-and-switch.”

But Mayor McCaffery said the changes were reviewed by the city attorney and allowed because they were considered “insubstantial amendments.”

As a result of the controversy, McCaffery wrote a lengthy letter, approved by his fellow council members earlier this month, that explained the original development agreement and the revisions.

In essence, he said the revised project didn’t need further formal and public review because it was a tenant change and didn’t alter the size, or height of the building, or require more fees from the developer.

He said the total parking requirements are 26.5 spaces for the amended project, versus 23.25 for the earlier approved project.

But he acknowledged that the developer will not have to add parking, nor pony up more money to create additional spaces somewhere else.

“Under current regulations, the city has no ability to require additional parking or fees,” he said.

When the project was approved two years ago, the number of on-site parking spaces — 16 — fell short of city guidelines calling for another seven spaces. The Seghesios agreed to pay the city $40,000 to develop additional parking a couple blocks away, next to the old Purity property on North Street.

Some critics, like attorney Janis Watkins, point out that a new parking study is recommending the city charge much more than that — an in-lieu fee of $11,300 per space — if developers can’t provide the required parking on-site for new projects.

And Watkins says the new operation could require even more parking spaces than the mayor stated — up to dozen more than the original plan — because of the number of hotel and restaurant employees needed to provide utmost care to the pampered guests, as well as some of the private events on the rooftop.

“My biggest problem is the lack of public input and transparency about what was going on, so people didn’t feel surprised,” she said.

Despite the controversy, no one seems to be betting against the success of the new venture.

“They’ll probably fill the place up,” said Jack Anderson, one of the passers-by interviewed.

Healdsburg’s saving grace, he said, is that it is still an agricultural community.

“As long as the Future Farmers Parade is still the highlight of the year, we’re still a great place,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas

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