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Neighbors who sued to cut Cambridge tower’s height lose in court

The Middlesex Courthouse in Cambridge.George Rizer/globe staff/file

A $250 million redevelopment plan for the former Middlesex County Courthouse in Cambridge cleared a major legal hurdle when a judge rejected claims by neighborhood opponents of the project.

Massachusetts Land Court Judge Robert Foster ruled late Tuesday that the developer, Leggat McCall Properties, has the right to preserve the building’s 280-foot height as part of a renovation that would add office space, retail stores, and residences.

A group of neighboring property owners, including architect Graham Gund, had argued that the state’s sale of the building to a private owner extinguished an exemption that allowed the building to be significantly taller than surrounding properties. They want to see the building demolished or substantially reduced in size.


Mark Bobrowski, a lawyer for the neighbors, said his clients intend to appeal the ruling.

He also said the neighbors are considering pursuing additional claims that the Cambridge Planning Board acted wrongfully in granting a special permit for the project.

Gund, whose office is located across the street from the former courthouse, could not be reached Wednesday.

The former Middlesex County Courthouse is to be rebuilt as a complex of shops, offices, and residences.Leggat McCall

Meanwhile, an executive with Leggat McCall said in a statement that the company was eager to proceed with its renovation.

“We remain committed to moving forward on our redevelopment of the now-vacant Sullivan Courthouse and to delivering a vibrant mixed use project with significant benefits for the East Cambridge neighborhood,” said partner Rob Dickey.

The project would actually reduce the height of the building to 258 feet, though the former courthouse would remain much taller than neighboring structures.

The renovated building, featuring a terra cotta facade, would offer 430,000 square feet of offices, 15,000 square feet of retail space, 24 residences, and 92 parking spaces.

Leggat McCall also plans to add a public garden along Spring Street, with benches and running-water elements.

In 2012, Leggat McCall won a public bidding process to buy and redevelop the East Cambridge property, which dates to the early 1970s, and has since been working to obtain permits and financing to move forward.


The courthouse has been vacant since last summer, when the remaining prisoners were transferred to the county jail in Billerica. All court operations were moved out of the tower in 2008 due to deterioration of the building’s lower floors.

The Cambridge Planning Board approved Leggat McCall’s renovation plan in September, and the neighbors filed their lawsuit several weeks later.

The judge elected to take up the case in two parts, first addressing whether the building’s height was a grandfathered right, and then taking up claims the planning board had wrongfully granted a permit.

Though Foster’s ruling supported the developer in the first round, the appeal of the decision and remaining claims regarding the planning board could still take several months to resolve.