Emily J. Vaias

Of Counsel

Tel 202.661.2239
Fax 202.661.2299
Washington, DC

Emily Vaias is a real estate attorney with over 25 years of experience focused on zoning, land use, and real estate development. She helps clients obtain approvals for successful projects in Washington, DC and the surrounding Maryland counties (including Montgomery, Prince George’s and Charles counties). Emily maintains excellent relationships with zoning and planning officials and appears regularly before zoning and planning boards and other administrative, legislative, and judicial bodies on behalf of local and national developers, commercial and residential builders, retailers, business owners, and individuals. She has worked on a variety of projects, including medical office buildings, hotels, senior housing, mixed use developments, retail shopping centers, historic building renovations, and single-family neighborhoods. In addition to obtaining regulatory approvals, she conducts due diligence for lenders and investors, and lobbies for zoning and legislative changes.

She holds several community board positions including being appointed by the Montgomery County Planning Board to serve on the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee, being a board member of the Homeless Persons Representation Project and Secretary for the Purple Rail Alliance. For over 15 years she was an adjunct professor in the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, Master of Science in Real Estate and Infrastructure program and is active in the DC Council of the Urban Land Institute.

Representative Matters

  • Led a team in representing the development of The Bonifant, a 155-unit affordable senior housing development in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is located on the same lot as a new County library. The project was designed to accommodate a proposed stop for the Purple Line, a light rail system connecting Montgomery and Prince George’s County. We secured the Site Plan approval by working with various stakeholders, including the surrounding community, the Maryland Transit Administration, the County’s Department of General Services and Department of Housing and Community Affairs. The project is one of the first in the downtown area to be constructed with almost no parking in an effort to encourage pedestrian and other non-auto modes of transportation.
  • Represented the developer of The Gallery in Bethesda, a 455-unit, mixed use project near the National Institutes of Health campus and two metro stops. We prepared density transfer documents, as part of the Project Plan, Site Plan and Preliminary Plan approvals, which allowed density from a commercial site along Wisconsin Avenue to be used as part of the residential/mixed-use site along Del Ray Avenue. Our work involved negotiating the proper dedication of right-of-way and easements along Wisconsin Avenue, which is a State roadway, as well as public improvement easements along the smaller streets to provide enhanced streetscape improvements.
  • Coordinated the developer team of Belnor Senior Residences, an affordable senior housing project in Suitland, Maryland that required Preliminary and Detailed Site Plan approval from the Prince George’s County Planning Board. The project involved significant public engagement as well as investment, and resulted in a 122-unit community with substantial environmental buffers to the rear and compatibility with both commercial and residential neighbors on either side.
  • Led a team in the development of the Residences at Forest Glen, a proposed multifamily housing project that will transform a worn and tired apartment project into a new, environmentally sustainable and vibrant affordable community. We began the project by participating in a master planning process that would recommend rezoning, but would still require a separate zoning application to achieve the desired density in time for needed financing applications. The successful Local Map Amendment (rezoning), approved by the Montgomery County Council, and Sketch Plan, approved by the Montgomery Planning Board, now lay the groundwork for the Site Plan.

Pro Bono Experience

Emily has been actively involved for nearly 20 years in providing pro bono legal services through the Homeless Persons Representation Project. She recently obtained special exception approvals from the District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustment for a childcare center that provides services to homeless families, and a shelter for survivors of domestic violence. She represents Madison House Autism Foundation in Montgomery County, MD and The Festival Center in the District of Columbia.

Professional Activities

Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee, 2017-present; elected Co-Chair 2019/2020

Urban Land Institute, Washington District Council, Advisory Board; Regionalism Initiative Council; Prince George’s County Initiative Council, 2016- present

Lambda Alpha International, Land Economics Society, George Washington Chapter, 2019-present

District of Columbia Building Industry Association, Comprehensive Plan Committee, 2016-present

Maryland Building Industry Association, Montgomery County Chapter, State Legislative Committee, 1993-present

Commercial Real Estate Women, Washington, D.C., and Suburban Maryland Chapters, 2014-present

Montgomery Housing Partnership, Golf Committee, 2016 and 2017

Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, Legislative Committee, 1994-2013

Leadership Montgomery, Class of 1999

Maryland State Bar Association, Delivery of Legal Services Section Council, 2001-2004; Co-Chair, Disaster Relief Committee, Young Lawyers 1998-2000; Co-Chair, Membership Committee, 1996-1998; Sixth Circuit Representative, 1994-1996

District of Columbia Bar Association, 2016-present

Recognition & Accomplishments

Selected for the inaugural edition of the Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Women Lawyers

Martindale-Hubbell AV Rated; highest possible rating for both legal ability and ethical standards

The Best Lawyers in America, land use and zoning law, 2012-2016, 2018-2021

Legal 500, Land Use and Zoning – Tier 2, 2020

Recipient, 2018 Laura Banks Reed Award for Community Service from DC SAFE

Recipient, 2018 Leonard E. Lindquist Award for excellence in providing pro bono legal services to those in need

Aunt Hattie's Place Honoree, 2012

Recipient, Washington Area Toyota Dealers Tribute to Working Women Award, 2011

Recipient, Home Builders Care Foundation's Tom Sawyer Award, 2010

Recipient, Maryland Pro Bono Service Award, Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, 2001

Recipient, Edward F. Shea, Jr., Professionalism Award, Maryland Bar Foundation, 1999


Co-Author, "DC Metro COVID-19 Legislation/Regulations Impacting Landlords, Judicial Actions, and Government Operations," Ballard Spahr alert, November 2, 2020, August, 28, 2020, July 29, 2020, July 21, 2020

Co-Author, "Sept. 15 Deadline for Developers to Oppose DC Condo Warranty Legislation," Ballard Spahr alert, September 14, 2020

Co-Author, "New COVID Legislation in the DC Metro Area Impacting Landlords, Permitted Activities, and Government Operations," Ballard Spahr alert, May 8, 2020

Co-Author, "Maryland, DC and Virginia Construction Sites Need Careful Monitoring to Stay Open," Ballard Spahr alert, April 17, 2020

Co-Author, "Navigating the Development Process in the DC Region During COVID-19," Ballard Spahr alert, April 10, 2020

Co-Author, "Maryland Accelerates Remote Notarization. Virginia Already Allows. District of Columbia Not Yet There." Ballard Spahr alert, April 1, 2020

Co-Author, "DC Seeks to Expand Condo Warranty Liability," Ballard Spahr alert, February 26, 2020

Co-Author, "Metro DC Real Estate Update," Ballard Spahr alert, September 13, 2019

Co-Author, "Bethesda Downtown Plan is First of its Kind," Ballard Spahr alert, July 26, 2017

Co-Author, "Deadline Approaching for D.C. Comprehensive Plan Amendment Proposals," Ballard Spahr alert, May 16, 2017

Co-Author, "Deadline Extended for D.C. Comprehensive Plan Amendment Proposals," Ballard Spahr alert, May 19, 2017

"Don't Zone Out," Build Maryland, February 4, 2015

Speaking Engagements

"Mixed-Use Development: Structuring Air Rights Condominiums and Other Common Interest Community Regimes," 2016 and 2017

Board Memberships

Purple Rail Alliance, Inc., Board Member, 2011-present; Secretary, 2015-present

Homeless Persons Representation Project, Board Member, 2015-present

Commercial Real Estate Women, Baltimore Chapter, President, 2000; National Delegate, 2001-2002; Metro Area Task Force, 2006

National Capital Trolley Museum, 2003-2012

University of Maryland School of Law (J.D. 1992)

University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, (Bachelor of Urban Planning, summa cum laude, 1989)

District of Columbia



U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

U.S. Supreme Court