Land UseDifferent Types of Land Use and the Roles of Planning, Zoning Boards

February 19, 20200

Land use planning is critical to intelligent development and/or management of the landscape around us. There are five main different types of land use: residential, agricultural, recreation, transportation, and commercial. Managing the various uses of land occurs through partnerships between state, federal, and municipal entities, but many decisions affecting local projects occur at the municipal level.

Planning and Zoning Boards

Municipal planning for the different types of land use is conducted primarily by zoning and planning boards. Zoning boards regulate the use, placement of structures, and other such requirements for every parcel of land, as well as grant variances. Planning boards are responsible for studying water resources, open space, and farmland to provide advice on regulations.

They also create and implement comprehensive plans incorporating the different types of land use, and reviewing and making decisions on applications for development. Planning boards review subdivision applications, site plans, special use permits, etc. If there are appeals from decisions made by the planning board, they are heard by the zoning board of appeals, and then by the Superior Court if there is an appeal from that decision.

Comprehensive Planning

Comprehensive plans are developed by municipalities’ planning boards under the Rhode Island Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act. The Act sets out provisions for all comprehensive plans, which are adopted “for the purpose of conforming municipal land use decisions and for the purpose of being transmitted to the chief for state review.”

The planning boards categorize the different types of land use and create comprehensive plans that state the goals and objectives for development. Also, they help guide the creation and amendment of regulations related to land use planning. This is important for anyone looking to develop land that they own.

When you submit any applications to develop (a subdivision plan or a site plan, for example), the planning board for that municipality gets involved. The board will require you to show that your plan is consistent with the city/town’s comprehensive plan. If you are denied, you can then appeal to the zoning board of appeals and then the Superior Court. However, it’s far more efficient and cost effective to work with an attorney familiar with the planning board process and achieve the result you want, faster.

Changes to Planning and Zoning in 2019

In 2019, various bills related to land use planning or zoning were introduced in the House or Senate of the RI General Assembly, and several of them were enacted. One enacted bill allows for inclusion of resiliency infrastructure projects in the definition of “approved project” in the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank laws. The RI Infrastructure Bank provides funding for various infrastructure improvement projects for businesses and homeowners.

As we discussed in a previous blog post, RIDEM has several priorities for enforcement during 2020, including the phaseout of cesspools; the RI Infrastructure Bank provides loans to repair or replace a septic system, or replace a cesspool with a septic system. Resiliency infrastructure projects in particular have become a hot topic, particularly after RI CRMC began requiring coastal hazard application worksheets with a number of developments across the different types of land use within coastal areas.

If you’re looking into the different types of land use to submit a planning board application, contact us to learn more about the process and what you need to expect in order to get the approval. We’re prepared to help, even with projects affected by these newly enacted laws. Call us today at 401.477.0023.

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