Atlantic Yards ombudsman Forrest Taylor faced down an inquisitive public on Wednesday night — but many left the meeting feeling that the project’s troubleshooter had nothing to offer.
Taylor, the sacrificial lamb sent by the Empire State Development Corporation to face about 50 angry and exasperated Atlantic Yards foes, deflected virtually every inquiry from the crowd at the Belarusian Church on Atlantic Avenue, from specific construction annoyances in the project’s footprint to the financial health of Bruce Ratner’s stalled arena and skyscraper development.
“I’m low on the totem pole,” Taylor, who’s been on the job for one year, said as a way of explaining his lack of details on the interactions between the state government and Ratner’s development company. At other points, Taylor said much of his information came from reading news stories about Atlantic Yards.
He did assure attendees that neither Ratner nor the state had abandoned the project, but said he had no idea if Ratner would finagle a piece of the federal stimulus pie — bailout funds for which the developer is reportedly lobbying.
“I think it will come down to the governor’s office to see where federal stimulus dollars go,” Taylor said.
The ombudsman also heard questions about the disassembled Carlton Avenue bridge, which Ratner’s crews demolished last year in anticipation of required renovation work in the Long Island Rail Road train yards.
The demolition has caused irritating detours for many, but Taylor said his office was not responsible for correcting or minimizing the disturbance — that’s up to the city Department of Transportation, he said.
Activists said Taylor’s defense reflected his manner during a year of private interactions with him — he’s responsive, but not revelatory — and people say that’s by design.
“It doesn’t sound like his job was designed for efficiency and transparency,” said Jim Vogel, neighborhood gadfly and member of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, which sponsored the meeting.
Some said that the public face of Brooklyn’s biggest construction project was hamstrung.
“There are roadblocks intentionally in his way,” said Paul Palazzo, chair of the Fort Greene Association. “His job description is lacking in openness.”