Councillor Carlone Calls for Transparency on Sullivan Courthouse Deal

Carlone_public_records_sullivan_courthouse.PNGCambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone has filed a Public Records request with the state's Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM).

The request seeks to obtain the value of the winning bid for the right to redevelop the 22-story Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse, 40 Thorndike Street in East Cambridge, along with other information related to bidding on the much-debated project.

Click here to view and download a copy of the request.

In August, 2012, members of the East Cambridge Planning Team (ECPT) overwhelmingly voted to support an alternative plan that would have reduced the height of the existing structure and used it for housing. But later that year, DCAMM announced that development rights would be awarded to Legatt McCall Properties, based their offer to convert the building to a commercial office tower.

When the office design was presented to ECPT members on February 26, 2014, it was met with a vote of unanimous disapproval. Since that time, the developer has added terracotta to the facade, but nevertheless, ECPT members voted in opposition to the project yet again, most recently on June 25.

Meanwhile, the Neighborhood Association of East Cambridge has emerged to offer strong criticism and analysis, and the abutting James Green Condo Association has prepared for possible litigation.

By the developer's own admission, the proposal is out of scale with its surroundings -- but residents and city officials are being asked to accept it as a matter of necessity, based on the assumption that the project must be made profitable enough to cover the costs of land acquisition and asbestos abatement, while also providing ample return on investment. Legatt McCall recently stated that the project is being developed "on a speculative basis."

But without knowledge of the winning bid or the proposed purchase price, it's difficult for residents to fully consider the tradeoffs at issue.

According to Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 4, Sec. 7(h): "Proposals and bids to enter into any contract or agreement [are exempted from public disclosure] until the time for the opening of bids in the case of proposals or bids to be opened publicly, and until the time for the receipt of bids or proposals has expired in all other cases..."

In other words, the law allows the state to maintain secrecy during the bidding process, but after the bids are opened or the deadline for bids has passed, then the bids are subject to public disclosure.

Last year, the Cambridge Chronicle submitted a request to obtain similar information; the request was denied based on DCAMM's assertion that the records are exempt, due to the fact that they were "relating to policy positions being developed by an agency."

According to the Secretary of Commonwealth's office, the state will have ten calendar days to respond to Councillor Carlone's request. If his request is also denied, it may be appealed to the Supervisor of Records.

The Cambridge Planning Board will consider the developer's application for special permits on Tuesday, July 29, at 7 pm, at a special location: the Kennedy Longfellow School, 158 Spring Street.

The following day, the council's Ordinance Committee will discuss and take comment on the Carlone, et al. petition, which aims to provide the council with an opportunity to review the urban design and traffic impacts of the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment (and other large projects) for the duration of the city's Master Plan process.

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  • Bill Forster
    Good. This is vital information to decision making.
  • Chip Strang
    Yes excellent request.

    Further, it is not the obligation of the City or its residents to make a particular development profitable. It is our responsibility to make the future of Cambridge a habitable community.