Report From Crain's: Developers Dealing With Department of Buildings Exempt From City's Lobbying Law: De Blasio Administration Clarifies Rules For Permit Applications, But Other Aspects of Law Remain FuzzyOriginally published in Crain's New York By Joe Anuta
The Office of the City Clerk, which regulates lobbying activities in the city, issued an advisory opinion to clarify "fuzzy" language from a 2013 update that had design professionals wondering if applying for permits from the Department of Buildings counted as lobbying. The clarification effectively exempts those activities. "It's very important for them to know if they are following the letter of the law," said Hannah O'Grady, vice president of the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York, a trade organization representing a wide variety of engineers who had sought guidance from the city this spring.
The lobbying law was designed as a transparency measure to disclose who is attempting to influence government. In the development world, developers and property owners — along with the architects, engineers, code consultants or other professionals they hire — are technically trying to persuade government employees in the DOB to grant permits. But Monday's advisory opinion states that any communication with the DOB "relating to the issue of permits, approvals or other construction-related documents" is not considered a lobbying activity.
The clarification was welcomed by O'Grady, but the development community is still waiting for guidance on other portions of the 2013 update. Specifically, the law is still unclear about whether architects who shepherd major projects and rezonings through the city's public review process would need to register as lobbyists. Engineers who perform environmental analyses to see whether these initiatives will have an adverse impact on the existing community are similarly confused.
"A lot of professionals who handle these matters don't really have a clear picture as to what is lobbying and what isn't," said Kenneth Fisher, an attorney with Cozen O'Connor who also works with the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York.
The Office of the City Clerk was asked to clarify the remaining portions of the law in 2014, but it has yet to weigh in.