Title 45
Towns and Cities

Chapter 24
Zoning Ordinances

R.I. Gen. Laws § 45-24-31

§ 45-24-31. Definitions.

Where words or terms used in this chapter are defined in § 45-22.2-4 or 45-23-32, they have the meanings stated in that section. In addition, the following words have the following meanings. Additional words and phrases may be used in developing local ordinances under this chapter; however, the words and phrases defined in this section are controlling in all local ordinances created under this chapter:

(1) Abutter.  One whose property abuts, that is, adjoins at a border, boundary, or point with no intervening land.

(2) Accessory dwelling unit (ADU).  A residential living unit on the same parcel where the primary use is a legally established single-unit or multi-unit dwelling. An ADU provides complete independent living facilities for one or more persons. It may take various forms including, but not limited to: a detached unit; a unit that is part of an accessory structure, such as a detached garage; or a unit that is part of an expanded or remodeled primary dwelling.

(3) Accessory use.  A use of land or of a building, or portion thereof, customarily incidental and subordinate to the principal use of the land or building. An accessory use may be restricted to the same lot as the principal use. An accessory use shall not be permitted without the principal use to which it is related.

(4) Aggrieved party.  An aggrieved party, for purposes of this chapter, shall be:

(i) Any person, or persons, or entity, or entities, who or that can demonstrate that his, her, or its property will be injured by a decision of any officer or agency responsible for administering the zoning ordinance of a city or town; or

(ii) Anyone requiring notice pursuant to this chapter.

(5) Agricultural land.  “Agricultural land,” as defined in § 45-22.2-4.

(6) Airport hazard area.  “Airport hazard area,” as defined in § 1-3-2.

(7) Applicant.  An owner, or authorized agent of the owner, submitting an application or appealing an action of any official, board, or agency.

(8) Application.  The completed form, or forms, and all accompanying documents, exhibits, and fees required of an applicant by an approving authority for development review, approval, or permitting purposes.

(9) Buffer.  Land that is maintained in either a natural or landscaped state, and is used to screen or mitigate the impacts of development on surrounding areas, properties, or rights-of-way.

(10) Building.  Any structure used or intended for supporting or sheltering any use or occupancy.

(11) Building envelope.  The three-dimensional space within which a structure is permitted to be built on a lot and that is defined by regulations governing building setbacks, maximum height, and bulk; by other regulations; or by any combination thereof.

(12) Building height.  For a vacant parcel of land, building height shall be measured from the average, existing-grade elevation where the foundation of the structure is proposed. For an existing structure, building height shall be measured from average grade taken from the outermost four (4) corners of the existing foundation. In all cases, building height shall be measured to the top of the highest point of the existing or proposed roof or structure. This distance shall exclude spires, chimneys, flag poles, and the like. For any property or structure located in a special flood hazard area, as shown on the official FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), or depicted on the Rhode Island coastal resources management council (CRMC) suggested design elevation three foot (3′) sea level rise (CRMC SDE 3 SLR) map as being inundated during a one-hundred-year (100) storm, the greater of the following amounts, expressed in feet, shall be excluded from the building height calculation:

(i) The base flood elevation on the FEMA FIRM plus up to five feet (5′) of any utilized or proposed freeboard, less the average existing grade elevation; or

(ii) The suggested design elevation as depicted on the CRMC SDE 3 SLR map during a one-hundred-year (100) storm, less the average existing grade elevation. CRMC shall reevaluate the appropriate suggested design elevation map for the exclusion every ten (10) years, or as otherwise necessary.

(13) Cluster.  A site-planning technique that concentrates buildings in specific areas on the site to allow the remaining land to be used for recreation, common open space, and/or preservation of environmentally, historically, culturally, or other sensitive features and/or structures. The techniques used to concentrate buildings shall be specified in the ordinance and may include, but are not limited to, reduction in lot areas, setback requirements, and/or bulk requirements, with the resultant open land being devoted by deed restrictions for one or more uses. Under cluster development, there is no increase in the number of lots that would be permitted under conventional development except where ordinance provisions include incentive bonuses for certain types or conditions of development.

(14) Common ownership.  Either:

(i) Ownership by one or more individuals or entities in any form of ownership of two (2) or more contiguous lots; or

(ii) Ownership by any association (ownership may also include a municipality) of one or more lots under specific development techniques.

(15) Community residence.  A home or residential facility where children and/or adults reside in a family setting and may or may not receive supervised care. This does not include halfway houses or substance-use-disorder-treatment facilities. This does include, but is not limited to, the following:

(i) Whenever six (6) or fewer children or adults with intellectual and/or developmental disability reside in any type of residence in the community, as licensed by the state pursuant to chapter 24 of title 40.1. All requirements pertaining to local zoning are waived for these community residences;

(ii) A group home providing care or supervision, or both, to not more than eight (8) persons with disabilities, and licensed by the state pursuant to chapter 24 of title 40.1;

(iii) A residence for children providing care or supervision, or both, to not more than eight (8) children, including those of the caregiver, and licensed by the state pursuant to chapter 72.1 of title 42;

(iv) A community transitional residence providing care or assistance, or both, to no more than six (6) unrelated persons or no more than three (3) families, not to exceed a total of eight (8) persons, requiring temporary financial assistance, and/or to persons who are victims of crimes, abuse, or neglect, and who are expected to reside in that residence not less than sixty (60) days nor more than two (2) years. Residents will have access to, and use of, all common areas, including eating areas and living rooms, and will receive appropriate social services for the purpose of fostering independence, self-sufficiency, and eventual transition to a permanent living situation.

(16) Comprehensive plan.  The comprehensive plan adopted and approved pursuant to chapter 22.2 of this title and to which any zoning adopted pursuant to this chapter shall be in compliance.

(17) Day care — Daycare center.  Any other daycare center that is not a family daycare home.

(18) Day care — Family daycare home.  Any home, other than the individual’s home, in which day care in lieu of parental care or supervision is offered at the same time to six (6) or less individuals who are not relatives of the caregiver, but may not contain more than a total of eight (8) individuals receiving day care.

(19) Density, residential.  The number of dwelling units per unit of land.

(20) Development.  The construction, reconstruction, conversion, structural alteration, relocation, or enlargement of any structure; any mining, excavation, landfill, or land disturbance; or any change in use, or alteration or extension of the use, of land.

(21) Development plan review.  The process whereby authorized, local officials review the site plans, maps, and other documentation of a development to determine the compliance with the stated purposes and standards of the ordinance.

(22) District.  See “zoning-use district.”

(23) Drainage system.  A system for the removal of water from land by drains, grading, or other appropriate means. These techniques may include runoff controls to minimize erosion and sedimentation during and after construction or development; the means for preserving surface and groundwaters; and the prevention and/or alleviation of flooding.

(24) Dwelling unit.  A structure, or portion of a structure, providing complete, independent living facilities for one or more persons, including permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation, and containing a separate means of ingress and egress.

(25) Extractive industry.  The extraction of minerals, including: solids, such as coal and ores; liquids, such as crude petroleum; and gases, such as natural gases. The term also includes quarrying; well operation; milling, such as crushing, screening, washing, and flotation; and other preparation customarily done at the extraction site or as a part of the extractive activity.

(26) Family member.  A person, or persons, related by blood, marriage, or other legal means, including, but not limited to, a child, parent, spouse, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, domestic partner, sibling, care recipient, or member of the household.

(27) Floating zone.  An unmapped zoning district adopted within the ordinance that is established on the zoning map only when an application for development, meeting the zone requirements, is approved.

(28) Floodplains, or Flood hazard area.  As defined in § 45-22.2-4.

(29) Freeboard.  A factor of safety expressed in feet above the base flood elevation of a flood hazard area for purposes of floodplain management. Freeboard compensates for the many unknown factors that could contribute to flood heights, such as wave action, bridge openings, and the hydrological effect of urbanization of the watershed.

(30) Groundwater.  “Groundwater” and associated terms, as defined in § 46-13.1-3.

(31) Halfway house.  A residential facility for adults or children who have been institutionalized for criminal conduct and who require a group setting to facilitate the transition to a functional member of society.

(32) Hardship.  See § 45-24-41.

(33) Historic district or historic site.  As defined in § 45-22.2-4.

(34) Home occupation.  Any activity customarily carried out for gain by a resident, conducted as an accessory use in the resident’s dwelling unit.

(35) Household.  One or more persons living together in a single-dwelling unit, with common access to, and common use of, all living and eating areas and all areas and facilities for the preparation and storage of food within the dwelling unit. The term “household unit” is synonymous with the term “dwelling unit” for determining the number of units allowed within any structure on any lot in a zoning district. An individual household shall consist of any one of the following:

(i) A family, which may also include servants and employees living with the family; or

(ii) A person or group of unrelated persons living together. The maximum number may be set by local ordinance, but this maximum shall not be less than three (3).

(36) Incentive zoning.  The process whereby the local authority may grant additional development capacity in exchange for the developer’s provision of a public benefit or amenity as specified in local ordinances.

(37) Infrastructure.  Facilities and services needed to sustain residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, and other activities.

(38) Land-development project.  A project in which one or more lots, tracts, or parcels of land are developed or redeveloped as a coordinated site for one or more uses, units, or structures, including, but not limited to, planned development or cluster development for residential, commercial, institutional, recreational, open space, or mixed uses as provided in the zoning ordinance.

(39) Lot.  Either:

(i) The basic development unit for determination of lot area, depth, and other dimensional regulations; or

(ii) A parcel of land whose boundaries have been established by some legal instrument, such as a recorded deed or recorded map, and that is recognized as a separate legal entity for purposes of transfer of title.

(40) Lot area.  The total area within the boundaries of a lot, excluding any street right-of-way, usually reported in acres or square feet.

(41) Lot area, minimum.  The smallest land area established by the local zoning ordinance upon which a use, building, or structure may be located in a particular zoning district.

(42) Lot building coverage.  That portion of the lot that is, or may be, covered by buildings and accessory buildings.

(43) Lot depth.  The distance measured from the front lot line to the rear lot line. For lots where the front and rear lot lines are not parallel, the lot depth is an average of the depth.

(44) Lot frontage.  That portion of a lot abutting a street. A zoning ordinance shall specify how noncontiguous frontage will be considered with regard to minimum frontage requirements.

(45) Lot line.  A line of record, bounding a lot, that divides one lot from another lot or from a public or private street or any other public or private space and shall include:

(i) Front: the lot line separating a lot from a street right-of-way. A zoning ordinance shall specify the method to be used to determine the front lot line on lots fronting on more than one street, for example, corner and through lots;

(ii) Rear: the lot line opposite and most distant from the front lot line, or in the case of triangular or otherwise irregularly shaped lots, an assumed line at least ten feet (10′) in length entirely within the lot, parallel to and at a maximum distance from, the front lot line; and

(iii) Side: any lot line other than a front or rear lot line. On a corner lot, a side lot line may be a street lot line, depending on requirements of the local zoning ordinance.

(46) Lot size, minimum.  Shall have the same meaning as “minimum lot area” defined herein.

(47) Lot, through.  A lot that fronts upon two (2) parallel streets, or that fronts upon two (2) streets that do not intersect at the boundaries of the lot.

(48) Lot width.  The horizontal distance between the side lines of a lot measured at right angles to its depth along a straight line parallel to the front lot line at the minimum front setback line.

(49) Mere inconvenience.  See § 45-24-41.

(50) Mixed use.  A mixture of land uses within a single development, building, or tract.

(51) Modification.  Permission granted and administered by the zoning enforcement officer of the city or town, and pursuant to the provisions of this chapter to grant a dimensional variance other than lot area requirements from the zoning ordinance to a limited degree as determined by the zoning ordinance of the city or town, but not to exceed twenty-five percent (25%) of each of the applicable dimensional requirements.

(52) Nonconformance.  A building, structure, or parcel of land, or use thereof, lawfully existing at the time of the adoption or amendment of a zoning ordinance and not in conformity with the provisions of that ordinance or amendment. Nonconformance is of only two (2) types:

(i) Nonconforming by use: a lawfully established use of land, building, or structure that is not a permitted use in that zoning district. A building or structure containing more dwelling units than are permitted by the use regulations of a zoning ordinance is nonconformity by use; or

(ii) Nonconforming by dimension: a building, structure, or parcel of land not in compliance with the dimensional regulations of the zoning ordinance. Dimensional regulations include all regulations of the zoning ordinance, other than those pertaining to the permitted uses. A building or structure containing more dwelling units than are permitted by the use regulations of a zoning ordinance is nonconforming by use; a building or structure containing a permitted number of dwelling units by the use regulations of the zoning ordinance, but not meeting the lot area per dwelling unit regulations, is nonconforming by dimension.

(53) Overlay district.  A district established in a zoning ordinance that is superimposed on one or more districts or parts of districts. The standards and requirements associated with an overlay district may be more or less restrictive than those in the underlying districts consistent with other applicable state and federal laws.

(54) Performance standards.  A set of criteria or limits relating to elements that a particular use or process must either meet or may not exceed.

(55) Permitted use.  A use by right that is specifically authorized in a particular zoning district.

(56) Planned development.  A “land-development project,” as defined in subsection (38), and developed according to plan as a single entity and containing one or more structures or uses with appurtenant common areas.

(57) Plant agriculture.  The growing of plants for food or fiber, to sell or consume.

(58) Preapplication conference.  A review meeting of a proposed development held between applicants and reviewing agencies as permitted by law and municipal ordinance, before formal submission of an application for a permit or for development approval.

(59) Setback line or lines.  A line, or lines, parallel to a lot line at the minimum distance of the required setback for the zoning district in which the lot is located that establishes the area within which the principal structure must be erected or placed.

(60) Site plan.  The development plan for one or more lots on which is shown the existing and/or the proposed conditions of the lot.

(61) Slope of land.  The grade, pitch, rise, or incline of the topographic landform or surface of the ground.

(62) Special use.  A regulated use that is permitted pursuant to the special-use permit issued by the authorized governmental entity, pursuant to § 45-24-42. Formerly referred to as a special exception.

(63) Structure.  A combination of materials to form a construction for use, occupancy, or ornamentation, whether installed on, above, or below the surface of land or water.

(64) Substandard lot of record.  Any lot lawfully existing at the time of adoption or amendment of a zoning ordinance and not in conformance with the dimensional or area provisions of that ordinance.

(65) Use.  The purpose or activity for which land or buildings are designed, arranged, or intended, or for which land or buildings are occupied or maintained.

(66) Variance.  Permission to depart from the literal requirements of a zoning ordinance. An authorization for the construction or maintenance of a building or structure, or for the establishment or maintenance of a use of land, that is prohibited by a zoning ordinance. There are only two (2) categories of variance, a use variance or a dimensional variance.

(i) Use variance.  Permission to depart from the use requirements of a zoning ordinance where the applicant for the requested variance has shown by evidence upon the record that the subject land or structure cannot yield any beneficial use if it is to conform to the provisions of the zoning ordinance.

(ii) Dimensional variance.  Permission to depart from the dimensional requirements of a zoning ordinance, where the applicant for the requested relief has shown, by evidence upon the record, that there is no other reasonable alternative way to enjoy a legally permitted beneficial use of the subject property unless granted the requested relief from the dimensional regulations. However, the fact that a use may be more profitable or that a structure may be more valuable after the relief is granted are not grounds for relief.

(67) Waters.  As defined in § 46-12-1(23).

(68) Wetland, coastal.  As defined in § 45-22.2-4.

(69) Wetland, freshwater.  As defined in § 2-1-20.

(70) Zoning certificate.  A document signed by the zoning-enforcement officer, as required in the zoning ordinance, that acknowledges that a use, structure, building, or lot either complies with, or is legally nonconforming to, the provisions of the municipal zoning ordinance or is an authorized variance or modification therefrom.

(71) Zoning map.  The map, or maps, that are a part of the zoning ordinance and that delineate the boundaries of all mapped zoning districts within the physical boundary of the city or town.

(72) Zoning ordinance.  An ordinance enacted by the legislative body of the city or town pursuant to this chapter and in the manner providing for the adoption of ordinances in the city or town’s legislative or home rule charter, if any, that establish regulations and standards relating to the nature and extent of uses of land and structures; that is consistent with the comprehensive plan of the city or town as defined in chapter 22.2 of this title; that includes a zoning map; and that complies with the provisions of this chapter.

(73) Zoning-use district.  The basic unit in zoning, either mapped or unmapped, to which a uniform set of regulations applies, or a uniform set of regulations for a specified use. Zoning-use districts include, but are not limited to: agricultural, commercial, industrial, institutional, open space, and residential. Each district may include sub-districts. Districts may be combined.

History of Section.
P.L. 1991, ch. 307, § 1; P.L. 1999, ch. 83, § 128; P.L. 1999, ch. 130, § 128; P.L. 2004, ch. 286, § 8; P.L. 2004, ch. 324, § 8; P.L. 2009, ch. 310, § 55; P.L. 2011, ch. 32, § 1; P.L. 2011, ch. 36, § 1; P.L. 2012, ch. 342, § 1; P.L. 2013, ch. 458, § 2; P.L. 2013, ch. 467, § 2; P.L. 2016, ch. 337, § 1; P.L. 2016, ch. 361, § 1; P.L. 2018, ch. 165, § 1; P.L. 2018, ch. 244, § 1; P.L. 2019, ch. 104, § 1; P.L. 2019, ch. 144, § 1; P.L. 2019, ch. 214, § 1; P.L. 2019, ch. 267, § 1; P.L. 2022, ch. 437, § 1, effective June 30, 2022; P.L. 2022, ch. 440, § 1, effective June 30, 2022.