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.)
- 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.
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.
General Master Plan Information
- Rhode Island’s Statewide Planning Program coordinates efforts related to Comprehensive Plans and provides guidance documents and a compendium of associated laws and regulations. For more information, you can visit the Rhode Island Office of Housing and Community Development, and the Strategic Planning and Economic Development sites.
- See the Land Use 2025 site, which provides a blue print that “envisions Rhode Island as a constellation of community centers connected by infrastructure corridors and framed by greenspace.”
- For guidance on “protecting resources and providing recreational opportunities today and for future generations,” see the Ocean State Outdoors: Rhode Island’s Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.
Planning with Historic Properties
- The Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission has a page on local historic district planning that may be relevant for your community.
- For communities with historic properties, FEMA publishes Integrating Historic Property and Cultural Resource Considerations Into Hazard Mitigation Planning: State and Local Mitigation Planning How-To. This FEMA document discusses the flexibility that FEMA allows when planning how to protect historic properties and cultural resources. To obtain a free copy contact the FEMA Publications Distribution Facility at (800) 480-2520 or you can download it.
- FEMA publishes the Floodplain Management Bulletin on Historic Structures to explain how the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) defines historic structures and how it gives relief to historic structures from NFIP floodplain management requirements. This bulletin also provides guidance on mitigation measures that can be taken to minimize the devastating effects of flooding to historic structures.
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
- The Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) harnesses private market forces to permanently protected open space by “transferring” development from areas that a community wishes to protect to other areas more suitable for development. A 2001 Rhode Island law establishes a system for the transfer of development rights within or between zoning districts.
- See this report on TDR from South County Watersheds Technical Planning Assistance Project (PDF, 685 KB).
- Some other communities have already advanced on this as well (PDF).
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.
- The Rhode Island Stormwater Design and Installation Standards Manual (in review) provides appropriate guidance for stormwater management on new development and redevelopment projects and incorporates Low Impact Development as the “industry standard”.
- The Rhode Island Office of Water Resources Outlines best stormwater management practices.
- The Urban Coastal Greenway (policy, regulations, and design manual) for the Metro Bay Region incorporates coastal vegetative buffers for the urbanized environment of northern Narragansett Bay and integrates economic development, expanded public access along and to the shoreline, and provides for the management, protection, and restoration of valuable coastal habitats.
- The Coastal Resources Management Council maintains a list of certified low impact master designers (PDF).
- The Rhode Island Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials Program provides tools, training and resources for decision makers to identify local water quality problems and to adopt effective pollution controls.
- The Healthy Landscapes website explains sustainable landscaping practices, and shares tips and resources for Rhode Islanders working to maintain clean water.
- The University of Rhode Island Home*A*Syst Program is a voluntary residential pollution prevention program your community may wish to consider sharing with its citizens.
- The Narragansett Bay Commission’s Water Audit Program is a non-regulatory service offered to help business use water efficiently.
- The Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management Council provides policy guidance for developing vegetative buffers in coastal areas under their jurisdiction (PDF).
* 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.”