After a series of bills became law at the end of the General Assembly’s session in June, significant changes are coming to Rhode Island’s land use and zoning laws beginning in 2024. Among its many changes made, the legislation includes changes to the notice procedure for public hearings, the standards applied to evaluating requests for zoning relief, and the appeal process for parties aggrieved by decisions of a municipal permitting authority. Land use attorneys and municipal solicitors should prepare now for the impacts of the new legislation, which takes effect on January 1, 2024.
For example, House Bill H6086 amends the notice and advertising requirements for public hearings held in connection with permitting applications, and for hearings held in connection with the adoption, repeal or amendment of zoning ordinances and regulations.
House Bill H6059 amends the laws pertaining to requests for special use permits and variances. For example, R.I.G.L. § 45-24-42 will now require that a zoning ordinance shall “establish specific and objective criteria for the issuance of each type of use category of special use permit, which criteria shall be in conformance with the purposes and intent of the comprehensive plan and the zoning ordinance of the city or town; however, in no case shall any specific and objective criteria for a special use permit include a determination of consistency with the comprehensive plan.” Furthermore, beginning in 2024, “If an ordinance does not expressly provide for specific and objective criteria for the issuance of a category of special use permit such category shall be deemed to be [a] permitted use.”
House Bill H6061 makes numerous changes to the land development and subdivision permitting process. Among those changes, R.I.G.L. § 45-23-32 was amended to re-define the categories of land development projects, and major changes were made to the development plan review process. R.I.G.L. § 45-23-50.1 was also amended so that municipal zoning ordinances are now required to provide for unified development review of permitting applications, which was optional prior to the passage of H6061.
House Bill H6061 also created a direct right of appeal to the superior court for aggrieved parties, rather than an appeal being first heard by a board of appeals. This represents a substantial departure from the appeal process that land use attorneys and municipal solicitors are familiar with. Then, House Bill H6060 created R.I.G.L. § 8-2-40, which provides that the presiding judge of the superior court shall create a land use calendar in superior court which will exclusively hear and decide all eligible land use matters. The land use calendar is intended to alleviate delays in the permitting process for projects, and, taken with the creation of direct rights to appeal, should make the appeal process more efficient.
These changes are only several of the many that will take effect beginning on January 1, 2024. While some changes are fairly minor, such as those made by H6086 to the notice procedure for public hearings, others represent major changes to zoning and land use laws in Rhode Island, such as those made by H6059 and its amendment of R.I.G.L. § 45-24-42. Attorneys should familiarize themselves now with the many significant changes coming to zoning and land use laws in 2024. Furthermore, municipal solicitors can take steps now to prepare for when the new legislation takes effect. For example, local zoning ordinances and land use regulations should be amended in advance of January 1, 2024, so that when the new laws take effect, zoning and land use codes will be consistent with the amended legislation. Readers are encouraged to contact Pat Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions on the impacts that the new legislation could have, and how to best prepare accordingly.