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Statute, Rule and Requirements

Comprehensive planning in the State of Rhode Island is governed by Chapter 45-22.2 of the Rhode Island General Laws, entitled the “Rhode Island Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act” (the Act). When the General Assembly adopted the Act in 1988, it intended to meld two existing land use planning processes into a reciprocal system comprised of the State Guide Plan (SGP) and municipal comprehensive plans. The State Guide Plan addressed land use and physical development, environmental and natural resources, economic development, housing, transportation, and other concerns. Historically, the State had delegated land use authority to its municipalities, most of which already had some type of comprehensive plan. However, at that time, there was no formal connection between the SGP, State agency plans, and municipal plans. The new system envisioned by the Act sought to address this by:

  • maintaining municipal discretion in land use decision-making; but;
  • establishing the lead role of the State Guide Plan;
  • requiring local comprehensive plans to meet certain minimum standards;
  • requiring zoning to conform to the comprehensive plans; and
  • creating an incentive for municipalities by obliging the State to conform its programs and actions to municipal plans that were certified as being consistent with State goals and policies.

Some of the key features of the Act include:

  • all municipalities are to prepare and adopt a single comprehensive plan that are to be updated and re-adopted not less than every ten years;
  • each plan is to include certain standard content, and that forecasts, goals, and policies must be formulated looking at a minimum 20-year planning horizon;
  • public input and comment is required during the comprehensive planning process;
  • comprehensive plans are to serve as the foundation for municipal zoning;
  • plans are to be reviewed by the State to assure they are consistent with the provisions of the Act; and
  • State agencies are to conform their programs and projects to municipal plans that have State approval.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Act was amended in 2011. The amendments to the Act set certain new requirements for the contents of comprehensive plans. Municipalities are required to revise their plans as needed and have them approved by the State by June 1, 2016 [RIGL 45-22.2-2(a)].