Land Use

Statewide land use planning covers a range of diverse topics and technical assistance activities for the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The Land Use Unit works with other federal and state agencies, programs, boards, committees, and councils on statewide land use issues and projects. Ongoing technical planning advice and support is provided to municipalities and others in planning for the development and conservation of land in the State

Managing Land use is a complex issue that involves federal, state, and municipal partners. This Element was the product of several years of efforts by many individuals, organizations, and agencies. It is based upon a series of special projects, technical analyses, and plans concerning different aspects of land use in Rhode Island. The Technical Committee of the State Planning Council served as the advisory committee during the Plan’s preparation. Land Use 2025, is the major connective Element in Rhode Island’s planning system. The Plan articulates the State's goals, objectives, and strategies to guide and coordinate the land use and transportation plans of municipalities and State agencies and to direct good, strategic projects at both the State and municipal level.

A key issue for the State is the relationship between land use and transportation planning. The role of land use planning is to guide transportation planning so that transportation will connect people with the goods, activities and people that they need. How we use our land dictates our needs for transportation facilities, modes of travel (cars, buses, bicycles or walking), and or other services. The Land Use Unit partners with other agencies to improve the integration of transportation, land use, and economic development in Rhode Island.

The Land Use Unit works to provide technical assistance to state agencies, municipalities, and other organizations through training, information, technical assistance on issues affecting transportation and land use planning, including but not limited to; conservation of land, infrastructure, smart growth, economic development, and developing centers. The Unit also responds to requests for technical assistance and planning guidance from municipal officials, the public, and other interested parties.

Land cover data documents how much of an area is covered by forests, wetlands, impervious surfaces, agriculture, and other land and waters. Land use shows how people use the land – whether for development, conservation, or other uses. Rhode Island has 4 sets of data for land use / cover that were developed for use by geographic information systems. The digital data is intended to assist Rhode Island’s community of planners and land resource managers.

The first two sets of land use/cover were created by in 1989 and 1995 from human interpretations of orthophotographs and hand digitized data. The data sets created in 2003/04 and 2011 were derived using semi-automated methods also based on orthophotography and included several enhancements for a more accurate analysis of land-use change. Created in 2003/04 and 2011 from the semi-automated methods, were the first statewide data for impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces are human-created surfaces that do not allow water to permeate through them. Metadata detailing the specific characteristics are available in each dataset. The data and supporting information is maintained by the University of Rhode Island’s Environmental Data Center for the Division for download at: RI Geographic Information System.

RI Geographic Information System

Other Resources and Helpful Links

Image of people

A citizen planner workshop is provided by Land Use Staff for elected and appointed local officials with an emphasis on planning and zoning board members who want to understand how community planning works and how land use decisions shape development. The workshop teaches the fundamentals on roles, responsibilities and best practices for planning and zoning in Rhode Island through engaging instruction from planning practitioners.  The workshop looks at look at Rhode Laws covering the legal basis and limits of municipal planning powers by outlining the enabling statutes that provide local planning authority, including issues related to due process and ethics. Other topics covered are the translation of vision to policies through such tools as the function of and relationship between the comprehensive plan, zoning, and subdivision regulations. The workshop explains how the tools form the backbone to shape where and how development happens, to promote the efficient use of municipal services, and to protect public health and safety. The goal is to provide a working knowledge of the skills necessary to guide community development.

The current workshop is currently being offered online through Zoom video conferencing technology. Contact either Nancy Hess or Paul Gonsalves for more information.

Special Studies

All summarized information in these files is for informational purposes only. Please follow the links to each municipal code website, or contact the municipality directly for more detailed and up to date information.