The Boston Globe | By Jon Chesto
October 18, 2016
The 22-story courthouse tower in East Cambridge has been vacant for two years, its future mired in a legal battle between neighbors and a developer tapped by the state government to bring the fenced-off edifice back to life.
Leggat McCall Properties is proposing to keep most of the tower intact, converting the former courthouse and jail into mostly offices and research space, with some housing and retail shops at ground level. Opponents say the building is much too large for their neighborhood of small, older homes, and some even want it torn down.
The rub is that as a government building, it is exempt from local zoning rules. So the opponents have sued, arguing the exemption should not be passed along to private developers that acquire surplus state property.
The challenge has alarmed state officials, who warn that an adverse ruling on the redevelopment could have ramifications well beyond Cambridge. Should the neighbors prevail, the officials fear that outcome will make it harder to redevelop or sell off dozens of other surplus government buildings, putting tens of millions of dollars in proceeds at risk.
“An adverse decision in this case will have a profound effect on the vested property rights of the Commonwealth and its taxpayers,” Adam Hornstine, an assistant attorney general, warned in a court proceeding for the Middlesex courthouse project.