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Rhode Island Supreme Court Denies Coastal Property Owner’s Zoning Request

Rhode Island zoning laws and regulations are designed to allow property owners and residents the most freedom in developing their properties while protecting neighbors, the public, the municipality, and the environment from the possible effects of development. As the culture and economy of coastal Rhode Island develop, some zoning laws and requirements are functioning to prevent property owners from making the best use of their land.

New homes along the Rhode Island coast have been getting larger and larger, as the housing market solidifies. Many coastal areas are shifting from seasonal “vacation home” occupancy styles to year-round habitation. Because of these changes, many of the zoning requirements for construction do not allow for the construction that property owners may desire. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently published a ruling on an appeal filed by a coastal property owner whose construction plans were denied by the municipal zoning board.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case has been the owner of two adjacent small lots in the town of Narragansett for several decades. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff sought permission from the town to build a home that spanned the two small lots. The plaintiff’s proposed construction would not be permitted by the zoning laws in effect at the time, so the plaintiff requested that the town approve special use permits in order for the construction to proceed. The town rejected the plaintiff’s request, finding that the plaintiff’s requested exemptions from zoning requirements would negatively affect the neighborhood and that the requested house was simply too large for the lot.

The plaintiff appealed the zoning board decision to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, where the lower ruling was upheld. The high court considered the plaintiff’s claims but ruled that the plaintiff’s proposed construction required more than “the least relief necessary” that the special use permit could be granted for. The court also considered the testimony of a neighbor who testified that the proposed construction would be detrimental to the neighborhood as a whole. Based on the Supreme Court ruling, the plaintiff will not be able to construct the house that they desired and will need to submit construction plans for approval that are consistent with the zoning board’s earlier findings.

Completing New Construction under Old Zoning Laws Can Be a Challenge

As the economy and environment of Rhode Island are constantly changing, there is a real premium to be placed on undeveloped coastal properties. Many properties that remain undeveloped in desirable areas have an irregular shape or small size that makes new construction within the zoning laws difficult. Zoning boards and the courts do have the discretion to issue variances and special use permits to allow construction that does not expressly comply with zoning regulations. If you are seeking to develop a piece of Rhode Island real estate and have concerns about zoning requirements, the experienced Rhode Island real estate attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo can help. Our property lawyers understand how zoning boards and state courts work, and we can handle your request in a manner that increases the chances of approval and eventual construction. Contact us to schedule a free consultation with a qualified Rhode Island real estate attorney by calling 401-300-4055 today.

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