Master plan to make city desirable for year-round residents

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OCEAN CITY -- The city’s master plan revision remains a work in progress, but at a Feb. 1 planning board meeting, officials provided a glimpse of where the document guiding development on the island is headed.

 

Laying out eight “broad expressions of desired future outcomes,” city planner Randy Scheule said members of the planning board subcommittee charged with the revision had been busy collecting “anything we could get our hands on” concerning changes in demographics and other data to devise suitable planning objectives and strategies.

Over the past 20 years, the island has experienced an overall declining population, but an increase in the number of residents 65 years and older and an increase in the number of dwelling units. All the while, the average income is dropping.

In short, the island is housing fewer people, and they’re older. Is it possible to attract more families to make the island their year-round home while maintaining the edge as America’s Greatest Family Resort?

Scheule said the current master plan has no clear goals or objectives; as the yet-to-be-unveiled revision moves forward, he said the revised plan will be built upon the foundation of eight goals.

The overarching goal of the master plan, Schuele said, is to enhance and promote a number of characteristics that collectively make Ocean City a desirable community for families and a vibrant family resort destination for the region.

Borne from a “shared vision,” Scheule said planning board members were working from these “straight forward and concise” goals to help put a new plan in place. Achieving the goals, he said, would be done through strategies and objectives.

Planning board members, he said, hope to increase the diversity of housing choices and housing affordability. They want to maintain and promote the city’s historic character and preserve the island’s heritage and traditions as properties are redeveloped.

Maintaining the city’s business community to encourage investment means supporting business retention and expansion, Scheule said. They have to make sure the city continues to provide services and commodities for visitors, permanent and seasonal residents.

The city’s three gateways and commercial corridors on Ninth Street, 34th Street and 55th Street need to be improved in function and appearance, he noted. This must be done “while protecting and enhancing adjacent residential areas.”

He said the city must adopt a complete streets policy: a “comprehensive, integrated, connected multi-modal transportation system” throughout the city to facilitate safe, attractive and efficient movement and access for everyone. The planning board, Scheule said, is looking to encourage pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Recreation, he said, is of utmost importance, as is protecting the ocean, bay, wetlands, open spaces and beaches. Convenient and accessible family recreation areas should be given priority.

Scheule said the master plan should be complete by mid-summer and promised that there would be several public meetings as the process moves forward.

“We’re going to be spending the next several weeks looking at re-zoning issues,” he said.

John Loeper, chairman of the planning board, said the city’s zoning ordinance was a total of three pages in 1938. The voluminous document the subcommittee is currently working with today is far more complex, he noted.

Municipal land use laws, he said, are complicated. He said the sub-committee hoped to have the process wrapped up by mid-summer, into the fall at the latest.

Councilman Roy Wagner approached the board during public comment as a private citizen. He asked board members to be cautious with the proposed hospitality zone that would allow for taller buildings.

“It’s not a fair exchange,” he said. “They want to go high and then shrink it down at the bottom.”

Wagner said he’s noticed height has been increased all over town, but the “bottom” of the building never seems to be reduced.

“I know from years back that people do not want Ocean City, New Jersey to become like Ocean City, Maryland. I hope the height stays at 50 feet, which has served us over the years.

“I don’t want to change Ocean City into a high-rise resort,” he said. “We know the year-round population is going down.”

Wagner said the number of children on the island has also gone down, and single family homes are important for attracting families.

“My solution is that we need more singles, but they have to be affordable,” he said.

Wagner suggested that any lot less than 4,000 square feet should be considered for a single family home only.

“It won’t be easy, there will be a lot of developers squawking about it,” he said. “But a lot could be corrected that way. Unless we do something significant, we will get insignificant results.”

Eric Sauder asked the board to take things slowly.

“Get it right, don’t rush this thing,” he said.

Loeper said the hospitality zone would be one of the first areas the board addressed.

“Anyone who has questions, my door is always open,” Loeper said. “There will be plenty of opportunity for public input. We’re going to have meetings as we move forward.”


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