East Cambridge residents file suit against Planning Board, Courthouse developer

Residents have filed a lawsuit in Land Court to challenge the Planning Board's decision to grant special permits for the redevelopment of the former Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse at 40 Thorndike Street in East Cambridge.

The complaint – which was filed today by lead plaintiff Michael Hawley, noted architect Graham Gund, and other abutters – alleges that the Planning Board's decision to grant special permits to developer Legatt McCall was "arbitrary and capricious," "an abuse of discretion," and "in excess of the Board's authority."

While attending the National League of Cities conference in Austin, Texas this afternoon, Cambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone issued the following statement in support of East Cambridge residents:

I stand with residents who are challenging the decision in the Sullivan Courthouse matter. Large-scale redevelopment always requires tradeoffs, but a decision of this magnitude ought to be subject to an inclusive process that is characterized by transparency, democratic accountability, and meaningful compromise. As it stands, the lack of process in this matter renders the outcome morally wrong.

Since taking office earlier this year, Councillor Carlone has been working with residents who do not think the Courthouse should be converted to a 20-story commercial office tower.

In March, Councillor Carlone secured passage of a policy order that called on Legatt McCall to "substantially reduce the height, traffic, and environmental impacts" of the proposal. When the developer didn't comply with that order, Councillor Carlone called for a temporary change in the special permit process that would have given the city council final say over certain special permits (including permits for the Courthouse project). The so-called "Carlone Petition" won the support of the Neighborhood Association of East Cambridge and other civic organizations, but the city council voted to quash debate on the petition in early September. Later that month, the Planning Board voted unanimously to grant permits for the controversial Courthouse plan.

Councillor Carlone has also been active in the effort to get the state's Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) to provide the public with information about the bidding process that led to Legatt McCall's selection as the developer. Carlone filed a public records request on July 15, but DCAMM refused to honor it. Then, on October 3, just days after the Planning Board voted to grant the special permits, the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office ruled that DCAMM should not have been keeping the details of the bidding process from the public.

In addition to opposition from the Neighborhood Association of East Cambridge, the James Green Condo Association, and other abutters and community groups, the Courthouse proposal has also been rejected on multiple occasions by the voting membership of the East Cambridge Planning Team, most recently on June 25, 2014.

A copy of the Hawley, et al. complaint is available here...


Also, as reported in Cambridge Day, a second lawsuit was filed today by Daniel Hill, an attorney with offices across the street from the Courthouse. Hill argues that traffic generated by the proposed office use would cause "substantial change in the neighborhood" and that certain open space requirements of the zoning ordinance are not being met.

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