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Long-stalled Cambridge courthouse project clears a crucial hurdle

The former Middlesex County Courthouse in East Cambridge.Lane Turner/The Boston Globe/Globe Staff

The yearslong saga of the East Cambridge courthouse tower appears to have finally reached a resolution, one that will lead to the redevelopment of the vacant, asbestos-contaminated building.

The Cambridge City Council on Wednesday voted 6 to 3 in favor of a plan to lease 270 parking spaces in a municipal garage across from the tower to Leggat McCall Properties. The developer had originally sought 420 spaces, to serve the 430,000 square feet of offices or research space it wanted to build in the 22-story tower on Thorndike Street.

The amount of office space in the tower will also drop, because Leggat agreed to double the number of affordable housing units in the building, to 48. The idea was proposed by Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui, considered the swing vote.


Leggat will also pay more into the city’s affordable housing trust fund, $15 million instead of $11.5 million.

Leggat won the right to redevelop the Sullivan Courthouse in late 2012. In return, it agreed to pay the state $33 million. But that transaction got hung up as Leggat dealt with legal challenges and, more recently, the parking issue. Leggat still needs Cambridge Planning Board approval to change the parking provision. But the council vote was considered the last major hurdle.

“After nearly seven years, we finally look forward to the transformation of this building — now with additional affordable housing — into a purposeful and remediated property that the City can be proud of,” Leggat executive Rob Dickey said in a statement.

Democratic State Representative Mike Connolly helped lead the opposition to Leggat’s parking request, saying East Cambridge needs more affordable housing, not more offices. He said Thursday that while he has mixed feelings about how the process was handled, he considers the doubling of affordable housing units a significant victory.

Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.