North Kingstown, Rhode Island

The Town of North Kingstown, population 26,000, lies on the shores of Narragansett Bay in eastern Washington County, 20 miles south of downtown Providence, Rhode Island. North Kingstown combines natural harbors and beaches with a wealth of historic treasures like Smith’s Castle, built in 1640, the Old Narragansett Church, built in 1707, and Wickford Village, with one of the best concentrations of colonial houses in the nation. North Kingstown’s economy was once based on fishing, textiles, boat building and naval installations. New industries are replacing the old, but North Kingstown is perhaps best known as a seaside resort and pleasure boat hub.

North Kingstown uses TDR to preserve farmland and other important resources including groundwater reserves, wildlife habitat and public access to water.

In 2008, North Kingstown amended its zoning ordinance, creating a TDR program and designating sending and receiving area overlay districts on its zoning map. The program is designed to preserve sensitive resources including groundwater reserves, wildlife habitat, agricultural lands and public access to surface water as well as to direct development to places better suited for increased development.

North Kingstown has designated and mapped over 50 sending areas, including wooded areas, wetlands, farmland and at least one property with a coastal pond. Owners of land in these areas may propose their property as sending sites by submitting a yield plan demonstrating the number of detached residential units that would be permitted on the sending site without the use of any density-enhancing code provisions such as inclusionary zoning or conservation developments. In the event of a non-residentially-zoned sending site, the Planning Commission determines the office floor area that could reasonably be expected. If the proposed sending site would be served by on-site wastewater treatment systems (OWTS), the yield plan must reflect the amount of development that is feasible using actual soil classifications and an assumption that the OWTS does not require a variance.

Sending site property owners can choose to transfer all or only some rights. If they choose to retain some rights, they must prepare a plan showing the location of proposed future lots and building envelopes. The land to be preserved must be contiguous and located adjacent to open space on neighboring parcels. Following Planning Commission approval of a sending site master plan, the owner records a deed restriction on the subject property and the Planning Director issues a certificate of development rights. If the owner has elected to retain some rights, those rights are referred to as retained development rights. The ordinance includes a process allowing landowners who have not used any of their retained development rights to convert some or all of these retained rights to transferable rights. The ordinance also contains a provision for changing certain details of the originally-approved plan for any retained development rights such as the location of the building envelopes.

Preservation is achieved by deed restrictions on sending site land used for or planned for agriculture. Agricultural deed restrictions are planned to be enforced by the Rhode Island Agricultural Land Preservation Commission or a non-profit organization approved by the Planning Commission with a farmland preservation mission. Non-agricultural sending sites are also protected by the granting of a conservation or preservation restriction to the Town.

The 2008 ordinance also designated and mapped dozens of parcels in the Post Road Corridor as potential receiving sites. A plan and code were adopted in 2008 designed to concentrate development in Post Road Corridor due to the the district’s infrastructure capacity and its ability to accommodate pedestrian-friendly, village-scale development that can efficiently be served by various transportation modes. In receiving site developments, applicants can use development rights to increase development in terms of bonus residential density, bonus non-residential intensity or a combination of both. The extent of development bonus per development right is established in the Town’s subdivision regulations. The Post Road zoning district establishes a maximum residential density of four units per acre when developers decline to use TDR or meet affordable housing thresholds. The baseline density increases to ten units per acre for projects in which 20 percent of the units meet affordability criteria. However, receiving area projects with 20 percent affordable units can achieve a maximum density of 25 units per acre when TDR is used for the bonus units, meaning all units in excess of the baseline of ten units per acre.