David M. Gest

Partner He / Him / His

David M. Gest has a wide-ranging real estate practice focused on zoning and land use matters. David has experience working with city planners, architects, landscape architects, and environmental and historic preservation consultants on major development projects.

He has worked with an array of city agencies and community groups throughout the zoning and historic preservation review processes, such as appearances before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Philadelphia Historical Commission, and the Civic Design Review Committee.

David also has experience with many aspects of transactional real estate work, including complex due diligence review, property acquisition and disposition, construction agreements, eminent domain, and leasing of retail, office, and laboratory space.


Representative Matters

  • Represented national developer in obtaining legislative and administrative approvals for 48-story mixed-use development in Rittenhouse Square, including residential and commercial space, affordable housing, and rehabilitation of historically designated buildings
  • Represented affordable housing developer in obtaining legislative and administrative approvals for mixed-use development in Old City, including the construction of permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless persons and the relocation of an historically designated building
  • Assisted developer in obtaining legislative and administrative approvals for a 700,000-square-foot mixed-use project with 480 dwelling units, three levels of structured parking, and 80,000 square feet of retail in Philadelphia
  • Assisted national hotel company in obtaining Philadelphia Historical Commission approval for a controversial modification of the region’s most iconic and historically important building identification sign
  • Assisted developer in obtaining significant use and dimensional zoning variance relief for a 132-unit mixed use project in the Spruce Hill section of Philadelphia

Professional Highlights

Pro Bono Experience

David serves as pro bono real estate counsel to Mural Arts Philadelphia, which has spearheaded more than 3,800 murals around Philadelphia and produced public art installations such as Monument Lab and Site/Sound: Revealing the Rail Park. He has additional pro bono experience representing nonprofits such as a charter school, community garden organization, and a chamber concert series.

Professional Activities

Community Design Collaborative, Board Member 

Urban Land Institute, Philadelphia Chapter, Community & Economic Development Council

American Bar Association, Section of State and Local Government Law

Philadelphia Bar Association

Ballard Spahr Diversity Council

Recognition & Accomplishments

The Legal 500, Real Estate - Land Use/Zoning, 2020, 2021

The Legal Intelligencer's 2016 Lawyers on the Fast Track

Speaking Engagements

Panelist, “The Evolution of Permitting, Design and Construction Under COVID-19,” Urban Land Institute, Philadelphia Chapter, May 7, 2020

"Philadelphia Zoning Code’s Role in Housing Regulation," AIA Philadelphia, Philadelphia, September 25, 2019

"Philadelphia 2018 Legislative Recap: Important Building and Zoning Code Updates," Ballard Spahr event, Philadelphia, February 13, 2019

Panelist, "The Mural Arts Program: A Multi-Faceted Legal Landscape," presentation to Greater Philadelphia Delaware Valley Association of Corporate Counsel, June 26, 2015

Panelist, "Beyond Zoning: Philadelphia's Other New Land Use Regulations," Ballard Spahr briefing, Philadelphia, October 15, 2013



Columbia Law School (J.D. 2010)
Submissions Editor, Columbia Journal of Environmental Law; Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, 2008-2010

University of Pennsylvania School of Design (M.C.P. 2010, city planning/community and economic development)
Recipient, Edmund Bacon Award for Best Professional Project; Daniel J. Curtin Fellow

Yale University (B.A. 2003, architecture/urban studies, cum laude with distinction in major)
Yale President's Public Service Fellow


New York