Cohen Half Body Photo

Karen L. Cohen

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Karen Cohen is a Partner in Gentry Locke’s Richmond office and is a member of the firm’s Real Estate, Land Use & Zoning and Solar & Renewable Energy practice groups. Karen assists clients obtaining approvals for solar and energy storage projects to implement the Virginia Clean Economy Act and advises developers on real estate transactions, the entitlement process, commercial leasing, environmental issues, construction, financing and general corporate matters. She also is a member of the firm’s outdoor advertising team. Karen serves as Chair of the Virginia State Bar Real Property Section Board of Governors. Karen received her B.S. degree in architecture from the University of Virginia, her M.S. in real estate development from George Mason University, and her J.D. magna cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center.

  • Wire Fox Terrier
  • Children (1 Hokie; 1’Hoo; 1 TBD)
  • Years elapsed between deciding I wanted to live in Richmond and actually moving to Richmond
  • If you had chosen a career other than law, what would you be doing?

    Stand-up comedian . . . but I’m not that funny and I can never remember jokes, so I’m not sure how well that would have worked out! I did initially choose a career other than law -- I started in architecture. As a land use lawyer and a member of GL’s solar and renewable energy practice, I have found the perfect career to blend my interests in architecture, planning, the environment, and the law.

  • People would be surprised to know...

    An art gallery recently exhibited drawings I did as an undergrad in an art class at UVA. Six of my pieces were sold.

  • What is your favorite footwear?

    Cowboy boots. I got my first pair of Frye boots when I was 16 and still wear them (they’ve been re-soled a couple of times).


  • Georgetown University Law Center, J.D., magna cum laude
  • George Mason University School of Business, M.S. R.E.D.
  • University of Virginia, B.S. Architecture


  • Provided zoning analysis in connection with various clients’ potential purchase of land for commercial and industrial uses, including evaluation of property within data center opportunity zone in Prince William County, and represented developers and landowners in connection with rezoning and special use permits, sign permits and subdivision approvals.
  • Represented commercial property owner in connection with easement acquisition agreement and filing of site plan.
  • Represented healthcare facility in connection with obtaining special use permit for an additional building-mounted sign.
  • Represented regional shopping mall owner in connection with subdivision and sale of mall parcel and drafted and negotiated complex reciprocal easement and operating agreement in connection with sale.
  • Analysis of zoning and restrictive covenant issues in defending operator of farm winery in land use litigation brought by homeowners to prevent operation of winery on historic property
  • Represented religious institution in connection with special permit amendment for “church with school” zoning classification in Fairfax County.
  • Represented developer in connection with application for mixed-use rezoning.
  • Advised municipalities in connection with various zoning and land use matters including Virginia’s new proffer legislation; sign ordinances after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert; the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), federal constitutional issues in connection with zoning ordinances pertaining to certain land uses; and preparation of performance and bonding agreements.
  • Representation of landlords and tenants in shopping center, office, and industrial leases, including medical building leases for non-profit integrated health system and urgent care facilities, government contractors, professional service firms and retail establishments.
  • Representation of general contractor in DPOR hearing, avoiding licensure penalty and obtaining a substantial reduction in fines.


  • Co-Chair of the Land Use & Environmental Committee for the Real Property Section of the Virginia State Bar (2019-present)
  • Chair of the Real Property Section of the Virginia State Bar (present)
  • Vice Chair, Virginia State Bar Real Property Section Board of Governors (2021)
  • Secretary, Virginia State Bar Real Property Section (2020 – 2021)
  • Board of Governors, Virginia State Bar Real Property Section (2017 – present)
  • Chair, NAIOP Prince William Government Relations Subcommittee (2016 – 2021)
  • Chair, Real Estate Development Committee, Prince William County Economic Recovery Task Force (2020)
  • Strategic Planning Committee, Mason Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship (2017)
  • Founding Director, George Mason University School of Business Real Estate Development Industry Group (2016)
  • Director-at-Large, George Mason University School of Business Alumni Chapter (2013 – 2017)
  • Virginia Women Attorneys Association (2013 – present)
  • Board of Directors, Legal Services of Northern Virginia (2017 – 2021)
  • Racial Justice Committee, Legal Services of Northern Virginia (2020 – 2021)
  • Black Family Land Trust Legal Services Advisory Committee (2020 – present)
  • Women’s Impact Network, Jewish Women International (2020 – present)


  • Member, Virginia State Bar
  • Member, District of Columbia Bar
  • Admitted to practice in the following courts:
    • United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
    • United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
    • United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
    • Virginia (all state courts)
    • United States District Court for the District of Columbia

Speaking Engagements

  • COVID-19 Government Relations: Federal, State and Local – Commercial Real Estate Development Association Webinar, NAIOP, May 5, 2020
  • Land Use and Zoning from Start to Finish: A Practical Guide to Land Use and Zoning Approvals and Issues, National Business Institute, September 10, 2019
  • 22ndAnnual Advanced Real Estate Seminar, Lurking in the Weeds – Advanced Covenant Issues
  • Prince William Chamber of Commerce, Powerful Partnerships 2017 Conference
  • Virginia Association of Zoning Officials 2017 (Proffer Legislation, RLUIPA, Sign Ordinances)


  • Named to Best Lawyers in America for Land Use and Zoning Law, and Real Estate Law (2024)
  • AV Preeminent Peer Rated, Martindale-Hubbell®
  • Super Lawyers, Thomson Reuters (2020, 2023, 2024)
  • Virginia Legal Elite, Virginia Business (2018 – 2020, 2023)
  • Member of the Year Award, NAIOP Government Relations (2020)
  • Influential Women of Law Award, Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly (2019)
  • Prominent Patriot, George Mason University School of Business (2017)

Published Work

  • Author, “Vested Rights: Ironing Out the Confusion,” The Fee Simple (December 2020)
  • Author, “What Is Land Use Law?” Lay of the Land (Land Use Law Blog Series, 2020)
  • Author, “Where Does Land Use Law Come From?” Lay of the Land (Land Use Law Blog Series, 2020)
  • Author, “A Good Time for Virginia Developers to Re-Evaluate Approved Plans,” Lay of the Land (Land Use Law Blog Series, 2020)
  • Contributor, Dewberry Land Development Handbook Series (McGraw-Hill Education, 4th ed. 2019)
  • Co-Author, Finding Common Ground on Proffer Reform, The Fee Simple (November 2018)
  • Author, 2012-2017 Strategic Plan for George Mason Master of Science in Real Estate Development (prepared on behalf of the George Mason Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship)
  • Featured in George Mason University School of Business article
  • Real Estate Development Capstone Project featured in Viva Tysons magazine
Cohen Full Body Photo