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Mary Carolyn (“Carolyn”) Brown

Carolyn Brown focuses her practice on zoning, historic preservation, land entitlements and administrative litigation. Ms. Brown has successfully guided developers, retailers, institutions, private schools, non-profits, and homeowners through the approval process on a wide variety of complex issues, ranging from large new mixed-use projects to small additions in historic districts.

Ms. Brown brings her clients a unique perspective, offering them the combined benefits of her 20 years of law practice and her background as an architectural historian with an M.A. in Historic Preservation. Before establishing The Brown Law Firm PLLC, she practiced with several national and local law firms, applying her historic preservation training to revitalization projects and new developments designed to enhance the District’s urban fabric.

Ms. Brown develops land use strategies and advises clients on the intricacies of the design review process for historic properties, as well as zoning and building code compliance. She practices regularly before the District’s Zoning Commission, the Board of Zoning Adjustment (including numerous appeal cases and foreign missions), the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board, the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation, and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. Ms. Brown also represents clients in the D.C. Court of Appeals defending agency orders approving development projects.

Ms. Brown has been involved in a number of pivotal developments in Washington, D.C., including planned unit development (“PUD”) approvals for Phase I of The Wharf at the Southwest Waterfront, and PUD and Mayor’s Agent approvals for the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant, the former Randall School in Southwest Washington, the Third Church of Christ, Scientist site, and the second convention center hotel project at 9th and L Streets, N.W. Read more about her representative work.

Ms. Brown started her career in land use as a historian with the U.S. National Park Service's Historic American Building Survey/Historic American Engineering Record documenting early twentieth century industrial structures. She also participated in surveys of historic World War II naval bases in the Pacific under the Department of Defense's Legacy Program. While completing her graduate studies in American Studies and Historic Preservation, she worked with the law firm of Wilkes Artis as an architectural historian, evaluating the historic merit of properties proposed for redevelopment. She was involved in such projects as the Verizon Center, the Washington Convention Center, expansion of the International Monetary Fund, St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the former Hecht Company department store site, and numerous other mixed-use projects in downtown Washington and residential developments throughout the city.

A native Washingtonian, Ms. Brown resides in the District of Columbia.


  • The George Washington University Law School, J.D.
  • The George Washington University, M.A., American Studies/Historic Preservation
  • Villanova University, B.A., English and History

Professional Employment

  • Wilkes, Artis, Hedrick & Lane, architectural historian, 1986-1999
  • Beveridge & Diamond, associate, 1999-2000
  • Holland & Knight LLP, associate and partner, 2000-2015
  • CastroHaase+Brown, PLLC, 2015-2016
  • Donohue & Stearns, PLC, 2016-2020

Bar Admissions

  • Maryland
  • District of Columbia


  • L'Enfant Trust, Washington, D.C., Board of Trustees, 2009-present
  • Lambda Alpha International, George Washington Chapter
  • NAIOP Leadership Committee, Washington, D.C. 2017-18
  • D.C. Bar's Real Estate, Housing and Land Use Section, 2001-2006; elected committee member, 2003-2006

Speaking Engagements

  • Georgetown Environmental Law Society, Georgetown Environmental Law Review, and Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Program, “The Role of Environmental, Land Use and Housing Law in Washington, D.C. Property Development,” Panelist, Historic Preservation Program, April 16, 2019
  • The District’s Historic Preservation Law, panelist at the PastForward Preservation Conference, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2015
  • Historic Preservation in Transition: New Developments in the District of Columbia: What You Need to Know, Holland & Knight Program, May 15, 2013
  • Zoning and Historic Preservation, Citywide Historic Preservation Conference, September 24, 2010
  • Inclusionary Zoning: Now That It’s Here, Let’s Learn About It, July 14, 2010
  • Conservation Easements: The Essentials, D.C. Bar Seminar, November 19, 2008
  • Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. Association of Land Surveyors, Inc., April 30, 2004
  • Historic Preservation and the Takings Clause: Is the District's Law Vulnerable to an Unconstitutional Takings Claim?, D.C. Bar Real Estate, Housing & Land Use Committee Program, November 5, 2003
  • Federal and Local Historic Preservation Laws, Lorman Seminar, October 30, 2001


  • U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds Charitable Deduction for Preservation Easements, Holland & Knight Alert, June 27, 2011
  • Zoning and Historic Preservation, D.C. Bar Practice Manual, January 1, 2004, editor
  • Integrating Federal Compliance with Environmental and Historic Preservation Requirements May be More Difficult on Major Development Projects, Environmental Law and Practice, Summer 1999