November 5, 20190

Processes like development plan approval, subdivision approval, and building approval refer to the approval required for construction or expansion (including some types of renovation) at the municipal level. A building approval is generally a written document that results from zoning board and/or planning board review. Permits must be obtained before constructing, enlarging, altering, repairing, moving, demolishing, or changing the occupancy of a building.

Municipal Zoning

A building approval flows from a planning and/or zoning review process. Zoning refers to the process used by cities and towns in regulating land use.  The Rhode Island Zoning Enabling Act mandated that every city and town create, maintain, and enforce a zoning ordinance. The purpose of a zoning ordinance is to promote responsible growth and planning that ensures the coexistence of a functional, organized environment.

Under Rhode Island law, local Building Officials have 15 calendar days to review a permit application. If the application is deemed sufficient, the Building Official issues a permit. On the other hand, the application review may result in a finding of incompleteness, deficiency, vagueness, or non-conformity to applicable building codes or state law. If the Building Official makes any of those findings, than he or she must officially deny the application and include the basis for the denial.

For new construction, inspections are also performed – both during construction once the construction is complete. The inspections are conducted to ensure compliance with building codes.

Zoning Enforcement

Projects should not proceed without having a municipal building permit in place. However, construction sometimes occurs in the absence of a building approval. In those cases, the municipality may impose fines and penalties, and may order demolition of unauthorized construction if it cannot be made to meet code. Enforcement of the prerequisite building permit can occur at the local and state level. In Rhode Island, the Superior Court maintains jurisdiction to hear these types of zoning matters. It is up to the municipal authorities to decide which cases are appropriate for court action.

Types of Development

Development comes in various forms. Each form has its own application and review process. It is important to research your property to determine whether a type of activity is allowed. Further, I advise that you contact your local building official prior to embarking on any kind of project. The official will be able to give you information about the applicable codes, regulations, and overlays.  Of course, you can always research the details of your property both in the municipal Land Evidence Records and online with the municipal property databases. That is a good starting point.

Development that may require building approval includes:

  • Building work
  • Operational work (ground excavation)
  • Reconfiguring your property (subdivision or lot merger)
  • Changing the use of the property (new use or revising the intensity or scale of the use)

Regardless of the type of development, there are fees associated with any building approval. The fees depend on the complexity of your project. If the project is complex, you likely will need to work with an engineer, architect, general contractor, and/or land use attorney. This is where Desautel Browning Law comes in. We have decades of experience with obtaining a building approval for clients. If you’d like to know how we can help you, call today at 401.477.0023.

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