Neighborhood Association of East Cambridge

The Volpe Center

The 14.5 acre Volpe Center stretches from Broadway to Binney, and Third St to the Sixth St walkthrough. This proposal deserves particular attention NOW.  As the two articles linked below describe, the City is proposing a major up-zoning of the area before the Federal government offers the parcel to developers under an RFP.

The proposed up-zoning, currently before the Planning Board, both increases the building envelope of prior master plans for the site, and significantly reduces the open space (from 7.5 acres to 2.5 acres).

NAEC needs to develop a consensus position on the proposed up-zoning and communicate it to the City (Planning Board, CDD and City Council).

Soon we will be scheduling an open NAEC meeting to discuss Volpe and will be looking for volunteers to man a Volpe Task Force. Any and all are welcome and we really need folks to help research and communicate resident questions/ideas.

Recent articles regarding the Volpe development:

CDD Memo re proposed upzoning

GSA Website:

The Sullivan Courthouse

The NAEC opposes the current plan to redevelop 20 stories of the Sullivan Courthouse. We do enthusiastically support a significantly scaled-down development that is properly planned with respect to zoning, local infrastructure capacity, impacts (such as traffic, parking, light and wind), and architectural character appropriate for this historic, residential East Cambridge neighborhood.


  • The Speical Permits for the 20 story development were approved by a vote of 6-0 by the Cambridge Planning Board on Tuesday, Sept 30. You can read some coverage on the matter, here and here.   Stay tuned for updates from NAEC on next steps. Thanks for all your support.

Letter campaign

Here are key contacts for sending letters about the Sullivan Courthouse and links to PDF version of the letters we passed out at our last NAEC meeting.

General Citizen Letter to State

Planning Board Letter

Cambridge City Council Letter

Contacts for Calls and Letter Writing

Mayor David Maher: or 617-349-4321

To reach all 9 City Councilors with one e-mail:, with a copy to Clerk Lopez at, requesting that your letter be included in the official record of the Council Meeting. To speak at a Council Meeting, call 617-349-4280 between 9:00–3:00 to get on Speaker List, or there is open sign-up from 5:00-6:00 at beginning of Council Meeting. (Public comment begins at 5:30).

Individual Councilors can be emailed at their first name initial and last, e.g., Dennis Carlone:; Tim Toomey:

City Manager Richard Rossi: or 617-349-4000

Planning Board: contact Assistant Liza Paden:,
or 617-349-4647. (Hugh Russell, Chairman)

Community Development Department: Brian P. Murphy, 
Assistant City Manager for Community Development, or 617-349-4600

East Cambridge demands to be heard on the Sullivan Courthouse!  Call and email:

Governor Deval Patrick:
(Scheduling Line) 617-725-4005 (Chief of Staff)

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo:
(State House) 617-722-2500
(District Office) 781-289-8965

Senate President Therese Murray:
(State House) 617-722-1500
(District Office) 508-746-9332

State Division of Capital Asset Management & Maintenance (DCAMM),
Commissioner Carole Cornelison, (617) 727-4050

We have also received scores of letters from the community on this issue. Read them here

Where we stand

NAEC Positions about the Proposed Development at the Sullivan Courthouse

We are pro-development.

We seek development that is reasonable for the neighborhood AND financially viable for the developer. We believe that these two goals are mutually compatible.

Our goal is not to stop the development process indefinitely and perpetuate a vacant building.  Our goal is to slow the process down in the interest of better planning and the thorough consideration of impact on the neighborhood.

Contrary to fears being circulated in the community, we do not believe it is likely that the State will abandon the site.  This is a high-profile asset in a hot real estate market. It is not in the State’s financial or political best interests to abandon the sale and development of the building and prolong the liability of maintaining it.

It takes time to arrive at the best redevelopment solution for this complex site; better that we take the time to think hard about our choices now than live with the consequences of a rushed decision forever.

The City must enforce its own zoning laws.

The State, in its request for proposals, explicitly notified all developers of the City zoning restrictions in effect at the site, including an 80′ height limit. Moreover, whenever a substantial change of use is proposed – as in this case, when the developers envision changing a public courthouse to a private business tower – City zoning ordinances dictate that the new use cannot be more detrimental to the neighborhood than the previous use.  When a change of use and other permits are requested of the City, consideration of the zoning and the infrastructure capacity of the neighborhood must, by law, be taken into consideration and influence the final outcome.

We ask that the City take a proactive role in defining the applicable zoning,  and explore potential re-zoning strategies to protect the quality of life of the neighborhood. The City has the leverage, the authority, and indeed the responsibility to do so. It is the City’s responsibility to create and enforce zoning for the protection of our neighborhoods.  That is the point of zoning and urban planning in the first place!

The Community’s concerns have been repeatedly dismissed.

The State wrote its Request for Proposals with no regard for the welfare of the neighborhood. It then chose the developer that initially refused to reduce the height and density of the building, and was consequently voted “worst choice” by the neighborhood.  On this critical point the State and the developer, Legatt McCall Properties, have ignored the voice of the community. The concerns of the neighborhood must be incorporated into the approval process. We insist that we have a seat at the design review table.

The State has said that it was solely trying to maximize its revenue when selecting the developer. In doing so, the State has failed its duty to the citizens of East Cambridge, who should not be asked to bear the hardships of a grossly out-of-scale building just so the State and a private developer can maximize their profits. The large size of the building was originally allowed via State exemption from local zoning because it was a public use; now that it is changing to private use and ownership, the benefits of the exemption should not be simply given to the private developer at the expense of the neighborhood’s quality of life.

At more than 500,000 square feet, this building is one of the largest in Cambridge. Traffic to the building is anticipated to surpass the threshold of 3,000 vehicle trips/day which should trigger a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) from the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA). The Developer has requested a waiver of the reporting requirement. The MEPA review process is designed to protect our air and water quality from unhealthy impacts. East Cambridge is near the intersection of two major Interstate highways (I-93 and I-90) which already degrade our air quality and exacerbate asthmatic and bronchial conditions. We believe a full EIR must be conducted.

The process so far has been based on unreliable information.

The developer has offered studies and claims that do not stand-up to scrutiny – or meet the common-sense test. For example, they have submitted to the City a traffic study that claims no additional adverse conditions,  a light pollution study that grossly understates the brightness of the building at night, and an overall impact study that does not even mention the loss of privacy that neighbors will experience as office workers peer into their backyards and bedrooms.

As a neighborhood, we will have to live with the results of this development. We deserve accurate and independent studies, fully vetted by the approving authorities.

Unanswered questions regarding the proposed development include:

• We ask the City to declare: what is the applicable zoning for this site, given that the proposal calls for converting it from public to private (for-profit) use?

• What will be the actual cost of asbestos abatement and of demolition? We call for unbiased, third-party estimates of these costs.

• Similarly, we call for accurate, objective studies of traffic, parking, light and wind impacts.

• What will be the actual impact on the privacy of neighborhood residents if  20 stories of the tower (which for years was open only during business hours on weekdays) is converted into a glass office building occupied by office and lab workers late into the night and on weekends?

Download this information as a PDF

Get Involved

If you’re interested in supporting our effort in some way please send us a note:

NAEC Letters

July 2014 letter to the Boston Globe concerning recent coverage of the courthouse: NAEC Globe response (PDF)  
Letters to City Officials:

February 26 Letter from Attorney Michael Neusse stating the core arguments on why Special Permit #288 should be denied. Read the letter (PDF)

April 2 Letter from NAEC to the Planning Board outlining the argument about the building’s nonconformity and the detrimental impact to the neighborhood at this proposed usage. Read the letter (PDF)

April 2 letter from NAEC to David Cash, Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Policy, Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Read the letter (PDF)

  • Letter campaign

    Letter campaign

  • Where we stand

    Where we stand

  • Get Involved

    Get Involved

  • NAEC Letters

    NAEC Letters

About NAEC

The NAEC was created in February 2014 out of concerns about the proposed redevelopment of the Sullivan Courthouse at 40 Thorndike Street. While the group was formed out of opposition to the (then) proposed redevelopment plan, the higher-order goal of this group is to engage as much of the East Cambridge community as possible on this topic, no matter what their opinion is on the matter.

We recognize that opinions on what the “right” outcome for the courthouse is are many and varied. For clarity on NAEC activities and thinking, please see the latest updates section.

The group’s overall mission is to protect and advance the quality of life and the health of the residents of East Cambridge. While we are currently focused on the proposed development at 40 Thorndike Street, we would hope to use this group to awaken community interest when issues arise in East Cambridge that threaten the quality of life and the health of us all.

In addition, the NAEC might serve to connect the various community groups in our neighborhood;  East Cambridge Families Group, the East Cambridge Business Association, and the East Cambridge Planning Team, among others.

To contact the NAEC please email




Support NAEC

The NAEC is raising funds to help with research, community challenges, legal opinions and more.   You can donate by sending a check made out to “NAEC” to 80 Thorndike Street, Cambridge MA 02141.