What are Comprehensive Plans and what are they for?

In brief, a Comprehensive Plan is a shared vision for the future of a community and an outline of the appropriate steps that will lead to achieving that vision. A well written comprehensive plan gives direction to private development and encourages economically sustainable community growth. The plan should act as a guide for planners, public officials, municipal department leaders and citizens for achieving the community’s goals. With the right goals and policies, a comprehensive plan can act as armor, protecting the community’s vision and strengthening its every step.

What is the intent of Comprehensive Planning in Rhode Island?

When the State’s reciprocal system of comprehensive planning was established in 1988 by the Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Regulation Act, the General Assembly laid out several findings that provide insight regarding the intent of comprehensive planning. The findings of the Act assert that local comprehensive planning is necessary to form a rational basis for the long-term development of a municipality. Also, the Act states that comprehensive planning is needed to:

  • Provide for protection, development, use, and management of our land and natural resources;
  • Promote the appropriate use of land;
  • Provide for the coordination of growth and the intensity of development with provisions for services and facilities;
  • Provide a basis for municipal and state initiatives to ensure all citizens have access to a range of housing choices, including the availability of affordable housing for all income levels and age groups; and
  • Recognize and address potentially conflicting land uses as well as shared resources in contiguous municipalities and encourage cooperative planning efforts by municipalities. 
Comprehensive planning by municipal government is necessary to form a rational basis for the long-term physical development of a municipality and to avoid conflicting requirements and reactive land use regulations
and decisions.
— Rhode Island Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Regulation Act, RIGL subsection 45-22.2-3(a)(1)

What is Rhode Island's planning framework?

Rhode Island has a long legacy of reciprocal comprehensive planning. In 1988, when the Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Regulation Act was first passed, the General Assembly built on the important local planning work already being conducted in many municipalities, becoming one of the first states in the country to adopt a statewide system of reciprocal community planning. Under this reciprocal system, the State sets broad goals and policies through the State Guide Plan and municipalities develop comprehensive plans that reflect these in a way that is relevant to their individual context. The local comprehensive plans serve as the basis for land use regulation and establish an implementation program for achieving stated goals. The local comprehensive plans are reviewed by the State and when approved, become binding on State agencies by requiring conformance of their programs and projects to the comprehensive plan.

What is the role of municipalities in this planning framework?

Recognizing that municipal governments make the majority of development and land use decisions within the state, the reciprocal system of community planning reinforces the considerable role of the municipality in achieving the goals of the State as a whole. Municipalities are charged with preparing and adopting plans that, in addition to implementing local goals, help to implement the goals laid out in the State Guide Plan and the Rhode Island General Laws. Therefore, the goals and policies found within local comprehensive plans must be consistent with and embody the goals of the State.

For more information, see:


Comprehensive Planning & Land Use Act 

RI State Guide Plan