Rhode Island Zoning Atlas

The RI Zoning Atlas is an interactive mapping tool that provides an unprecedented look at zoning conditions impacting housing and development across the state.

Explore the Rhode Island Zoning Atlas

RI Zoning Atlas

What is a Zoning Atlas and Why Does Rhode Island Need One?

The Rhode Island Zoning Atlas provides a first-of-its-kind look at how zoning intersects with housing across all 39 of RI’s cities and towns. With work spanning almost two years, the HousingWorks RI team analyzed the zoning of all 39 of Rhode Island's cities and towns to create an interactive and digestible atlas. This work relies on the methodology and guidance of the National Zoning Atlas (NZA) collaborative. Learn more about the NZA methodology here.

See anything that needs fixing? Email us at hwri@rwu.edu.

"We need to find better ways of helping people understand what zoning codes say, because they have a tremendous impact on our economy, on the environment, and on our society. A zoning atlas that enables users to visualize the prevalence and nature of regulatory constraints, particularly on housing, can be an important tool to achieve that goal."

- National Zoning Atlas

Initial Findings

Zoning District Types

The vast majority of Rhode Island is zoned for residential uses only, with only a small amount zoned for a mix of residential and other uses. A mix of uses creates more walkable and vibrant communities that allows housing to be located close to retail, transit, amenities, etc. Mixed use development also follows smart growth principles. Such reliance on primary residential zoning also increases car dependency.

  • 81% of RI is zoned for Primary Residential.
  • 9% of RI is zoned for Mixed with Residential.
  • 10% is zoned for Nonresidential.

By Right Zoning

Because special use permits require a public hearing process, they often increase costs and overall timeline of housing development, as well as reducing the scale of a project. As such, uses allowed by right often indicate how permissive a community is to those respective uses.

  • 87% of RI is zoned for single-family by right.
  • 20% of RI is zoned for two-family by right.
  • 9% of RI is zoned for three-family by right.
  • 8% of RI is zoned for four-family+ by right.

Minimum Lot Size

Large minimum lot requirements make more affordable housing types difficult, if not impossible, to develop. Even when more affordable housing types are allowed, the large lot requirements disincentivize those more affordable options in favor of large single-family homes.

  • 25% of land zoned for single-family by right requires a minimum lot size of one acre or more.
  • 39% of land zoned for two-family by right requires a minimum lot size of one acre or more.
  • 49% of land zoned for three-family by right requires a minimum lot size of one acre or more.
  • 49% of land zoned for four-family+ by right requires a minimum lot size of one acre or more.

General Findings

  • In just under two years, over 6,000 pages of zoning code were analyzed and coded.
  • In all, just under 700 relevant zoning districts were recorded.
  • On average, there are 18 zoning districts per municipality.

Visit our Youtube Channel for recordings of RIZA trainings and analyses!

Research Team

Director: Annette Bourne, Research and Policy Director, HousingWorks RI

Project Manager: Toby Arment, Research Analyst, HousingWorks RI

Project Manager: Chris Chutz, Project Manager, Church Community Housing Corporation

Advisory Committee

Benny Bergantino, Rhode Island Division of Statewide Planning

Jessica Cigna, Office of RI Secretary of State

Brian DeChambeau, RIHousing

Deborah Goddard, RI Department of Housing

Richard Godfrey, Cummings Institute for Real Estate, Roger Williams University

Susan Mara, American Planning Association, RI Chapter

Ginette Wessel, Cummings Institute for Real Estate, Roger Williams University

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RI Alliance for Healthy Homes

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