Petrarca and Petrarca Law Offices

Rhode Island Zoning and RI Permit Laws explained by an experienced Rhode Island real estate attorney

RI Zoning Permits And Laws Explained

When it comes to Rhode Island real estate law, Zoning laws are some of the most complex and confusing in the state. RI Permits and Zoning laws provide restrictions on every type of property, from vast industrial parks to the land in your own backyard. They could be the difference between getting your dream business off the ground or halting your progress right in its tracks.  And if that wasn’t enough, you can also be fined for failure to follow proper zoning laws in your county or city. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by Rhode island zoning laws or RI permits, don’t worry. We’re here to explain the basics of zoning law in Providence County. 

Rhode Island Zoning Laws

In the past, Rhode Island didn’t have a uniform zoning system. Because of that, the Rhode Island Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act was passed. The zoning act allows municipal discretion throughout the state. This allows Rhode Island communities more control over planning, growth, and development in their areas. View Rhode Island’s zoning and planning laws for more information

Different city and county governments in Rhode Island have their own formula for zoning and planning. For this guide, we’ll go over the permitting and zoning process in Providence RI. Consult your local government’s website for more specific information on your city or county. Visit the RI permit portal if you have further questions. 

What are the real estate zoning codes in Rhode Island? 

Each piece of land in Providence is sectioned into different RI zoning classifications. The zoning districts are:

  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Downtown
  • Industrial
  • Institutional
  • Waterfront
  • Open space and public space
  • Special purpose

It’s important to note that each district has its own set of restrictions for use. There are also subsets of each zoning district, like R-1 (single-family residential). Zoning restrictions also determine property dimensions, such as lot size, minimum building square footage, parking requirements, and other restrictions. The Providence zoning ordinance was adopted in November 2014. You can see a detailed overview of current laws in the City of Providence’s Zoning Ordinance user Manual

What are the Rhode Island building permit requirements? Do I need RI permits to build on my own property? 

Yes. You’ll need to obtain a permit for almost any kind of new construction, regardless of the property’s zoning. Some of the more common reasons that people seek Rhode Island building permits include:

  • Erecting a shed or exterior structure
  • Adding an “in-law suite”, or accessory dwelling unit (ADU)
  • Building a deck
  • Adding additional rooms 
  • Creating a retaining pond or water feature

How do I file for RI permits for buildings? 

Obtaining a building permit in Rhode Island is a relatively straightforward process. First, ensure that your desired changes are permitted within the property’s current real estate zoning laws. If you’re unsure of your area’s zoning, take a look at the Providence zoning map.

You’ll also want to check for any easements or restrictions on the property. For example, if you want to open an office park on your property, you’ll need to verify that there are no restrictions against office parks on your deed. 

Once you’ve verified that your desired project fits the zoning requirements, you can file for building permits at the RI permit portal. 

What if I want to use land for a purpose other than its current zoning classification? 

What if your land is currently zoned residential, but you want to run a business from the property? Or if you want to build a residential building on commercially-zoned property? You can either file for a zoning variance, or try to have the zoning changed for your property. 

Each city and town in Rhode Island has a procedure to review applications for changes in zoning. In Providence, property owners face multiple steps of government approval. Let’s go over those. 

How to file for special RI permits or a change in zoning

First, visit the City of Providence website to find out the necessary paperwork for your zoning change request. Next, your requested change will go before the Providence Planning Commission. The commission’s job is to “ensure that development in the city is consistent with the city’s plan by reviewing all land development projects, applications for zone change, and requests for street abandonment.”

The Planning Commission will review your application and recommend either to approve or deny your request. Once the planning commission has made their recommendation, your request will go before the Providence City Council. The City Council has the authority to grant or deny your zoning request in accordance with their best judgment.

Additionally, the Providence Zoning Board of Review has the authority to grant relief from the Providence Zoning Ordinance and Rhode Island Building Code.  

How do I get a change in zoning approved by the council? 

The Providence City Council will review your application in zoning and vote to either approve or deny your request, depending on a number of factors. Going before the council can be a nerve-racking experience. It’s often unpredictable which way the council will vote on a specific zoning issue. The effect your requested change will have on the overall community will be a key issue. 

Next, the local planning board will decide if your requested change in zoning is compatible with the surrounding community or the overall area plan. Will the proposed change in zoning become a nuisance to existing members of the community, or will changing the zoning benefit the community? The burden of proof is on you, and you’ll need to make your case about why the zoning should be changed to your benefit.

This is where you could benefit from having an experienced Providence RI real estate lawyer at your side. A real estate lawyer in Providence RI knows the ins and outs of complex zoning law. They can advise you on the best way to present your case before city councils or commissions, and help you obtain necessary RI permits or changes for your project. They can also file complex paperwork on your behalf, so you don’t have to dive into the mountain of Rhode Island zoning law for yourself. 

Who are the best real estate lawyers in Providence RI?

If you need help getting approval from the Planning Commission or City Council, call Petrarca Law. As seasoned Providence RI lawyers, we have extensive experience dealing with property issues on city and state governments. And we’ve helped achieve positive results for our clients on all types of zoning issues. 

We can help you obtain necessary RI permits, and help you present your case before the Zoning Committee and City Council. Let us stand up for your rights as a property owner. Contact our office for a free consultation.