Developer sued over failed condo deal

Natick woman alleges discrimination

By Jessica Bartlett
Globe Correspondent / January 13, 2011

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A Hingham developer who recently sued the town and officials for $10 million is embroiled in a lawsuit with a woman who alleges that, because of her race, the developer prohibited her from buying a condominium.

Filed in US District Court in Boston last month, a year and a half after the incident allegedly took place, the complaint says Thomas J. Hastings discouraged Donna Maciel, an Asian-American, from purchasing a home in the BackRiver Park LLC complex, “emphasizing the ‘predominantly white’ nature of Hingham and by falsely telling her that no affordable housing unit would be available.’’

According to Jonathan D. Friedmann, a lawyer representing Hastings, this complaint has come before other forums three times and was unsuccessful each time. Friedmann said he expects the same outcome in federal court.

The 45-unit BackRiver development, situated near Weymouth Back River and Bare Cove Park in Hingham, was built by Hastings Properties amid a slump in the real estate market.

The project was approved under the state’s Chapter 40B law, which applies to cities and towns where fewer than 10 percent of the homes meet the state’s definition of “affordable.’’ In these communities, developers can avoid local zoning ordinances if they set aside a certain number of units for buyers who earn less than 80 percent of the area’s median income.

Although some of the BackRiver units cost upwards of $1.2 million, several were set aside at below-market prices. Maciel, a Natick resident, entered a lottery to purchase one of those units.

According to the document filed in US District Court, the first unit Maciel tried to purchase was sold to a white woman five places behind Maciel on the lottery list.

Maciel then negotiated to buy another unit, according to the complaint, but the developer changed the closing date, failed to provide the required information to her mortgage company, and then refused to grant a one-day extension to correct errors in a form that the developer had filed. By failing to meet the deadline, Maciel lost her down payment and the unit, as well as moving costs, according to her lawsuit.

“I am a single mother of two and cannot afford to lose the $10,000 I invested in the property,” wrote Maciel, whose children are 5 and 17 years old, in a letter to Bank of America during the dispute. “This monetary loss in no way takes into account the emotional distress of losing a hard-to-find, affordable deed-restricted property through no fault of my own.’’

In response, Friedmann said, “the reason she ended up not buying the unit was because she failed to perform.’’

Friedmann, a partner at Rudolph Friedmann LLP, noted that Maciel had filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which referred the case to Suffolk County Superior Court. The court denied her request to halt the sale of the first unit, and MCAD then turned down Maciel’s complaint as well as a subsequent appeal, he said.

“We will defend vigorously like we have in the past,’’ Friedmann said of the federal lawsuit. “The court and MCAD have ruled in our favor three times. . . I have no reason to expect the court would act any differently.’’

Maciel’s lawyer, on the other hand, said her case is on solid ground.

“While we were disappointed with MCAD’s decision not to pursue this matter further, we are eager to defend Ms. Maciel’s rights in court and try this case before a jury of her peers,’’ said Robert E. Toone, with Foley Hoag LLP, which is representing Maciel.

In the complaint, which names Hastings, two of his companies, project manager Michael Jones, and BackRiver Park, Maciel seeks compensatory damages and all fees and costs associated with the case.

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of clashes involving Hastings and the town.

Hastings was sued by Hingham in March 2009 after he attempted to move a historic property, which he was unauthorized to do, to accommodate 15 townhouses for people 55 and older, according to the town.

Hastings countersued, saying that he was granted permission by the Zoning Board of Appeals. The case is in arbitration.

Last year, Hastings filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission charging that a Hingham selectman and developer, John Riley, who has served on both the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen, had undermined Hastings’s developments, which directly competed with Riley’s.

Although the Ethics Commission had not ruled on his complaint, Hastings filed a $10 million lawsuit against the town and several officials last month alleging breach of contract and fraud.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached a