Coastal Zone LawCOVID-19: Commercial and Residential Land Use Issues

March 28, 20200

As the number of cases of COVID-19 grows around the country, the New York City metro area, and New York generally, has experienced some of the highest rates of infection. This has resulted in many people from the area leaving to take shelter in their second homes. Many of those homes are in Rhode Island. In particular, coastal municipalities such as Newport, Narragansett, South Kingstown, Charlestown, and Westerly. These areas have high numbers of seasonal and part-time residents from outside of R.I., as does Block Island.

Residential land use in coastal areas includes vacation homes, which are largely rented out when they are not occupied by the owners. The owners may generate income from students during the academic year and from tourists during the summer. As of March 26, 2020, those coming to R.I. from New York and other places to take up residence in these homes were asked to self-quarantine for fourteen days.

Municipal Precautionary Steps

Coastal communities are concerned about commercial and residential land use issues, particularly an influx of people from New York. Also, communities support observation of the self-quarantine period. Block Island has unique concerns. The island is separated from major hospitals (there is one doctor on the island), and enacted a shelter-in-place emergency ordinance on March 23rd to assist with keeping COVID-19 off of the island.  Travel to Block Island for non-residents is discouraged at this time.

On March 25th, the Charlestown Town Council issued a notice urging compliance with the self-quarantine period. South Kingstown is likewise discouraging out-of-town visitors and requiring self-quarantine periods for those coming in to town from elsewhere. Also, South Kingstown is regulating commercial and residential land use by banning new reservations for short-term rentals during the emergency declaration period.

State Orders

Governor Raimondo, on March 26, 2020, stated that she will sign an executive order mandating a fourteen day self-quarantine period for every person who has or who will come to Rhode Island from another state. The Governor specifically addressed travelers from New York, as well as those who have come into Rhode Island from New York in the last fourteen days. This quarantine order is in addition to other interstate travel orders already in place.

To that end, the Governor instructed members of the National Guard to expand stationing from T.F. Green Airport to bus stops, bus terminals, and train stations. In addition, members of the state police will be flagging down vehicles with New York State license plates. In all of these endeavors, the various officers will be asking for contact information. Governor Raimondo explicitly stated that the sole purpose of collecting this contact information is for public health. The contact information will be used only to conduct contact tracing when necessary, and will not be used for law enforcement, immigration, or other government purposes.

The state’s Department of Health released a tip sheet for self-quarantining at home. Commercial and residential land uses are impacted by these requirements. While necessary to combat the spread of COVID-19, these restrictions will impact offices, retail spaces, and industry. This is an obvious statement, but the scope of implications is yet to be seen.

There will be additional orders related to out-of-state travel into R.I. from New York in the coming days. The state will also be further limiting customer capacity in the still-open businesses, as well as social distancing while in line outside of these establishments. Any new orders are anticipated to affect commercial and residential land use.

They way businesses operate and use their properties will be impacted by the state’s decisions. For further questions about how the state’s executive orders may impact you or your business in R.I. – including driving services, hotels, and Air BnB arrangements – contact us today at 401.477.0023.

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