A local comprehensive plan (required for all Rhode Island communities) provides an avenue to link a long-term vision with community resilience. In its plan, your community can help guide development in floodplains, stormwater management, low impact design, and smart growth techniques.

A community master plan allows your community to recommend zoning strategies to guide private and public projects away from areas where they would likely put people and property at risk. Ideally, plans should reserve the most hazardous areas (e.g., V and coastal A Zones on Flood Insurance Rate Maps, floodways, high-erosion areas) for parks, greenways, golf courses, or similar open space. The master plan can identify areas that are priorities for land acquisition efforts.

The following sites have information on creating master plans:

Floodplain-Specific Local Comprehensive Plan Information

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Coastal Construction Manual offers excellent information on issues associated with development in floodplains, particularly:
    • Section 2.2 and 2.3, which provide an excellent overview of historic storm events and their often forgotten effects, as well as lessons learned that can inform future planning for development and redevelopment.
    • Section 6.4.3, which covers the legal requirements of compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), including what land uses are and are not allowed.
    • Section 6.5, which provides recommendations for exceeding NFIP minimum standards.
    • Chapter 7, which covers the importance of identifying hazards in the planning process.
    • Chapter 8, which gives recommendations on how to develop “raw” land, as well as redeveloping land. (Figure 8-5 provides a simple “Do & Don’t” list for land use in coastal areas.)
  • To obtain a free copy of the Coastal Construction Manual (in print or on a CD), contact the FEMA Publications Distribution Facility at (800) 480-2520.

  • The Association of State Floodplain Managers is a great source for information on how to safely use floodplains. Their NAI Toolkit (PDF, 2 MB) is particularly useful for local officials, as is their Coastal NAI Handbook.

General Master Plan Information

Planning with Historic Properties

Coastal Smart Growth

Consider adding Smart Growth techniques to the master plan.

  • For an overview of smart growth, see the introduction on the Smart Growth Network’s website.
  • The Grow Smart Rhode Island site provides a toolbox to promote smart growth within economic development, open space, affordable housing among others. Tools include model ordinances, guidebooks and policy briefs.
  • NOAA’s Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities builds on the Smart Growth network’s ten smart growth principles to create coastal and waterfront-specific strategies for development. The guide, developed by a consortium of partners including Rhode Island Sea Grant, includes an overview of the unique development challenges and opportunities along the water and provides specific approaches to development that include a description of the issues, tools and techniques, and case studies.

Transfer of Development Rights

Low Impact Development and Vegetative Buffers

Low Impact Development (LID) techniques and practices offer additional strategic advantages for inland floodplain management, such as planning to work with existing natural resources and on-site stormwater management that can reduce flooding. Whatever your planning approach, make certain that you are making appropriate choices that consider your community’s specific hazard vulnerabilities. For example, while high-density housing can reduce environmentally damaging urban sprawl, it’s not generally appropriate in a floodplain because it can expose additional structures to flood damage and adversely affect the floodplain’s natural ability to provide storm damage protection and flood control.


* Your community needs only 500 points to qualify for reduced flood insurance premiums through the Community Rating System (CRS). For more information (including how to apply for the CRS program), see our Community Rating System (CRS) primer.

Notes from the folks at CRS:

“Activity 520 recognizes the importance of linking the floodplain management plan with other planning studies and with development, redevelopment and population trends. A community master plan may also include information on the impacts of flood hazards on the population, buildings, public safety, critical facilities, and the community’s economy and tax base. Usually, the master plan will also address the need to protect wetlands, sensitive areas, the habitat for rare or endangered species, and to protect the other natural and beneficial functions of the floodplain.”

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