Due to a steady decline in year-round residents, Ocean City's Planning Board is looking to revise the city's zoning laws to permit more single-family homes.

The board is in the final stages of re-examining the city’s Master Plan, which regulates all zoning in the city and is a comprehensive guide to development.

"The reality is we are essentially fully developed, so we're talking about re-development," said city Business Administrator Mike Dattilo.

The re-examination started in August 2011, and the board plans to have a public hearing on its proposals at a meeting in the city's library at 7 p.m. Oct. 3.

On Thursday, the board made a presentation of the plan to City Council, and it will continue to get input before the possible adoption of its report later in October.

"We're still looking for areas where we could place more single-family homes," said Councilman Antwan McClellan, who sits on the planning board.

McClellan said the main goal of the plan is to tweak zoning in certain areas of the city to encourage future development of homes instead of duplexes or condominiums as had been the case in the past.

By doing so, they hope to attract more year-round residents, which in turn could benefit businesses and the local school district.

Since 2000, the city's year-round population has dropped by 24 percent, from nearly 15,400 people to 11,700. It had a peak of 15,512 people living there permanently in 1990, U.S. Census Bureau data show.

Since 1990, the number of housing units also decreased by 10 percent and occupied housing units decreased from 37 percent to 28 percent, according to the Planning Board's figures.

Dattilo said he is not sure yet how many single-family homes could potentially be built based on the zoning changes. He also said it likely wouldn't result in any visible changes for several years, and the most substantial changes will only take effect through another formal Master Plan amendment process.

However, Dattilo said this plan should be a useful guide as the construction industry picks up and builders start to re-develop the island again.

"It's important to get this in place as we do come out of this (economic slump)," he said.

The city first adopted its Master Plan in 1961 and it has gone through more than a dozen revisions since. Its last comprehensive reexamination was in 2006, which Dattilo said took two years to be enacted.

This recent re-examination report aims to preserve existing business districts, promote senior housing, eliminate parking requirements for certain businesses, adopt streetscape standards and require the lowest habitable floor be 2 or 3 feet above base flood level.

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