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A Primer on Rhode Island Zoning Issues

One of the more complex areas of Rhode Island real estate law is zoning. Zoning refers to the process in which a city or town divides land and designates certain permissible or prohibited use. For example, Rhode Island zoning laws govern whether a homeowner can run a retail business out of the first floor of their home or whether a manufacturer can construct a factory on a specific plot of land.

Historically, the state government allowed local municipalities to make their own zoning decisions. However, after being confronted by the reality of having a total lack of a uniform zoning system, the state government passed the Rhode Island Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act (the Act). The Act was designed to implement a state-wide zoning system while still allowing municipal discretion.

The Rhode Island zoning laws impose several layers of restrictions. First, all land is broadly classified into the following categories, known as zoning districts:

  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Downtown
  • Industrial
  • Institutional
  • Waterfront
  • Open space and public space
  • Special purpose

All land is categorized into one of these zoning districts. However, there are also restrictions on the intended use of a property. Thus, not all property within a zoning district will be subject to the same restrictions. For example, a company that wants to open a restaurant on a piece of property it recently purchased in Newport must confirm that the land is not only in a commercial zoning district, but also that there are no use restrictions on opening a restaurant at that specific location.

If a property owner’s intended use is permitted, then they can go through with the permit process. However, if the intended use is not allowed, then the property owner will need to seek zoning relief. This may take the form of a zone change or a use variance, depending on the owner’s specific needs. A Rhode Island zoning attorney can assist property owners with this process.

Aside from the intended use, Rhode Island zoning ordinances regulate the dimensions of a piece property, including lot size, dimension, size and location of buildings, as well as parking, landscaping and signage requirements. If a property owner’s plans do not conform to the requirements, they can seek relief from the local zoning board. Those considering seeking zoning relief should consider consulting with an experienced Rhode Island real estate attorney for assistance.

Are You Dealing with a Rhode Island Zoning Issue?

If you are currently wrestling with a local zoning board, or anticipate that you will be in need of zoning relief, contact the dedicated Rhode Island real estate lawyers at Bilodeau Capalbo. At Bilodeau Capalbo, we represent property owners in all types of zoning issues, including variances and zone change requests. We also handle other real estate and property law issues for landowners, developers, businesses, and individuals. Our team of dedicated real estate lawyers know the ins and outs of Rhode Island zoning law, and are prepared to put that knowledge to use to help your business thrive. To learn more, call 401-300-4055 to schedule your free consultation today.

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