After hours of negotiations following some brief but charged arguments in Kings County Supreme Court today, Daniel Goldstein, the spokesman for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn agreed to accept $3 million from Forest City Ratner--far more than the original low-ball $510,000 offer for his three-bedroom condo--in exchange for leaving by May 7 and reducing his prominent role in the Atlantic Yards opposition.
"The agreement today was in part about the value of my apartment, but more so it was about them, ESDC [Empire State Development Corporation], wanting me out quickly," Goldstein said. "They paid to get me out quickly."
Goldstein and his family are the last remaining occupants of a 31-unit building at 636 Pacific Street, in the heart of the arena block. His neighbors also made deals as a group in 2004, taking a significant profit (thanks to public funds reimbursing Forest City Ratner) and agreeing to a gag order.
"I cannot retain the title of spokesman," said Goldstein, who has long been DDDB's most prominent public face and activist, calling attention to "failure of democracy" with the project. "I can do whatever else I want, and it is stipulated that I can maintain my First Amendment rights."
After the settlement made by Freddy's Bar & Backroom, it's an acknowledgment by a vocal opponent of the inevitability of the arena, if not the project as a whole, and the power of the state in eminent domain cases in New York. The courts had already rejected eminent domain lawsuits and transferred title to the ESDC.
Here's coverage in the Times's City Room blog, the Times, the Daily News, and the Brooklyn Paper. Here's Brownstoner's comment:
We don't in the slightest bit doubt the sincerity with which Goldstein devoted himself to opposing the project nor can we blame him for his final move in the giant poker game given the options, but it's hard not to have some feelings of ambivalence about the way it all ended. After all, it was never supposed to be about the money.Impact on litigation
In doing so, Goldstein withdrew from existing litigation, which makes it ever less likely that a longshot lawsuit aiming to get the Empire State Development Corporation to issue new eminent domain findings will be successful. A hearing is scheduled for May 12.
(Three plaintiffs in that case remain; two are entities owned by Henry Weinstein, who has not yet settled in the pending condemnation case but has agreed to vacate his property in exchange for an advance payment. He surely would be required to drop other litigation if he settles.)
An appeal in another lawsuit is pending. Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman faces motions for reconsideration from a coalition led by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn as well as BrooklynSpeaks constituent groups challenging the accuracy of the assumption of a ten-year project buildout.
While Goldstein's settlement does not formally affect that case, it may well be cited as another example of the project's forward motion--examples of which Friedman cited in her ruling in March, writing, "At this late juncture, petitioners’ redress is a matter for the political will."
What about the Development Agreement?
So that makes it less likely that the Development Agreement--which, kept under wraps by the ESDC until late January, sets a 25-year deadline for the project--will receive tough judicial scrutiny. (It is the linchpin of both the new case and request for reconsideration.)
Most of the press has ignored the blatant disconnect between the public profession of a ten-year timetable and the plain fact of the document.
Value to FCR/ESDC
Was the settlement fair? From the perspective of Forest City Ratner, which claimed delay was costing them $6.7 million a month, it was surely worth the cost, given that they are tamping down a vocal opponent and weakening DDDB. (The developer, according to various news reports, sought a full gag order, which Goldstein resisted.)
Beyond that, he agreed to leave faster than had been previously requested and much faster than in most eminent domain cases.
According to a legal motion filed earlier this month, Forest City Ratner claimed it had spent $280 million to buy property for Atlantic yards; unmentioned was that city taxpayers had contributed $131 million.
From the perspective of the ESDC, whose eminent domain counsel was funded by FCR and which worked hand-in-glove with the developer, surely it's worth it.
$3 million man?
Goldstein, who paid about $590,000 for the apartment in 2003, will not take home $3 million. While I don't know the cut for attorney Michael Rikon (and Goldstein wouldn't specify), another eminent domain attorney told me that the fee is typically one-quarter to one-third of the settlement beyond the initial offer.
With an original offer of $510,000, the additional sum is $2,490,000. Thus, the attorney's fee would be either $622,500 or $821,700.
That would leave Goldstein $2.18 million or $2.37 million. That's approximately double what a commensurate apartment would cost.
So, it might be framed this way: beyond the apartment, Goldstein's getting a $1 million-plus in exchange for activism--with impact much beyond Atlantic Yards--over six years that was barely compensated, plus "punitive damages" for "pain and suffering."
Fighting the good fight or selling out
While some online commenters have lauded him for fighting the good fight against a government and developer with enormous resources, some sneer that he was in it for the money. That's hard to believe, given the amount of work he put in.
Some may think he should've held out to the bitter end. He might've gotten far less money in the legal process--and, I'd add, it's hardly comfortable for someone with a wife and child living alone in a building next to a construction site.
Goldstein told Crain's “there was nothing more I could possibly do to fight this project.” Given that he did more than anyone, it's hard to fault his decision, but the settlement, as noted, likely weakens pending litigation that already faced an uphill battle.
Will Goldstein donate any piece of the settlement to DDDB? I asked but didn't get an answer, so we'll see. That may depend on what exactly DDDB becomes, which is unresolved.
If Goldstein continues meaningful work on the issues DDDB and he have highlighted, such as reform of eminent domain and land use processes, he will write his own legacy.
Selected comments from CityRoom
I guess it was about money all along, eh?— Collin Deweger
For all those attacking Daniel Goldstein, I would predict that you have never stood up for anything or stuck your neck out for anyone. And therefore you seek to find any way you can to prove that all of Mr. Goldstein’s efforts match your own vision of the world where everything is a sham and everyone has a price. Sorry but I don’t care if he squeezed every dollar he could from Ratner — it doesn’t take away everything he did for Brooklyn.
Daniel was most likely going to be forced to sell his place, especially as all the other remaining footprint residents/businesses had cut deals. So, his choice was either take the money now, or wait and see what the state was going to offer when the sheriff came knocking.