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Sullivan Courthouse conversion in East Cambridge a go—again

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Years-long saga

Rendering via Cambridge Day

One of the Boston region’s longest-running development sagas appears to have ended in a Massachusetts Appeals Court’s decision in the developer’s favor.

Developer Leggat-McCall has been trying for several years to convert the shuttered Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse (and one-time jail) at 40 Thorndike Street in East Cambridge into offices and two dozen apartments.

Some locals had seized on the courthouse/jail’s June 2014 closure as an opportunity to right what they perceive as a wrong stretching back to the 22-story tower’s construction and expansion in the 1960s and 1970s—namely, that it was out of scale for the neighborhood.

The state, which controlled the tower, disagreed, giving Leggat-McCall the green-light back in 2012 as the building’s closure loomed.

Original plans called for offices and retail only, but the developer added the 24 apartments to placate opponents. Leggat-McCall also agreed to chop the tower’s existing height two stories. It looked like the project would move forward.

Then abutting landowners sued to block the conversion. The state Land Court ruled in the developer’s favor, and now the Massachusetts Appeals Court has unanimously upheld that decision.

It looks—again—like the conversion of the Sullivan Courthouse is a go. Still, opponents might appeal the appeal court’s decision to the state’s highest bench. What then?

Stay tuned.