In 1999 a coalition of groups including the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Rhode Island Rural Lands Coalition, and town planners from nine South County towns developed an effort to find potential solutions to suburban sprawl and environmental degradation from around the country and show how they could be applied locally. Designed to look at a cross section of techniques, including creative regulation, management programs and educational efforts, the project revolved around ways to encourage traditional rural activities like farming and forestry, while shaping new residential and commercial growth to preserve open space resources and revitalize existing centers.

Under a grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency, a team led by Dodson & Flinker worked with an Advisory Committee of more than sixty town planners, elected officials, and citizens selected by the nine South County towns to develop a suite of “Smart Growth” tools — including a set of Model Zoning Ordinances, Strategies to promote Farming and Forestry, a study of Transfer of Development Rights, and a GIS-based Development Site Assessment Guide. The centerpiece was the South County Design Manual, featuring a series of design scenarios for eight actual sites within the region, illustrating in plan and perspective the alternatives for future development. Each of these products was designed to take the best examples from around the country and shape them into tools that would be effective in South County, and which could also serve as a model for other rural and suburban communities.