While small beach bungalows once lined New Jersey’s barrier islands, they are an increasingly rare sight today compared to the shore’s towering rows of duplexes, condominiums and McMansions.

However, more modest housing may make a return someday in Ocean City after City Council recently approved the possible development of so-called coastal cottages in an effort to attract more year-round residents.

“The idea is to try to bring families into these areas either (seeking) starter homes, or perhaps some retirees looking for a piece of Ocean City to call their own,” said planner Randy ScheuleCQ while explaining the concept to the governing body. “There is nothing like this in the city now.”

The single-family, detached homes would have two or two and a half floors on lots of 1,800 or 2,400 square feet. By restricting the lot sizes, planners hope to keep property costs down, since land values account for the majority of total assessments in the city.

That could potentially make it easier for people to live on the island year-round, which officials hope would halt the city’s ongoing population decline. The community has lost more than 3,600 year-round residents since 2000, and only 23 percent of the city’s 17,800 residential units are lived in year-round by their owners.

By permitting this new type of development in certain commercial zones, planners also hope to increase the city’s housing stock in areas that had otherwise been struggling to attract consistent uses.

“It’s kind of out-of-the-box thinking,” said John LoeperCQ, chairman of the city’s Planning Board, which amended the city’s master plan last year to recognize the concept as an option for attracting more permanent residents.

City Council approved the proposal last week, but it will take an interested developer to implement it. The builder would need at least 15,000 square feet of space, and it would be designed as a whole rather than by individual lots, with shared community spaces.

One such area that had been discussed is the half-block area between 12th and 13th streets on the west side of Haven Avenue. There are empty lots there, as well as the Car Caress auto detailing shop.

Most of the council members have praised the plan, saying it is necessary to give people the option to try something new.

“I know most people when they retire they look to downsize, not upsize, and this may be the right size, so I’m all for it,” Councilman Keith HartzellCQ said during one of the governing body’s discussions on the plan.

“I think it’s got a lot of unique characteristics,” said Councilman Tony WilsonCQ, who was recently selected as council president. “It’s got a community feeling to it.”

Mayor Jay GillianCQ also voiced support for the concept, saying it would add diversity to what the city has to offer.

“I just think it’s a good thing, and I think it’s going to be done right, and once it’s done I think everybody, well, most people will be pleased, because we can’t please everyone,” he said at last week’s meeting.

He was right, because several people, including Councilman Pete GuinossoCQ, opposed the plan, saying both that the concept would encourage too much development and that the structures are not small enough.

“You’re putting eight or nine pounds of building on a five-pound lot,” said resident and Planning Board member Marc ShusterCQ, meaning that he thought the buildings were still too big to attract young families or senior citizens.

Resident Shawna LairdCQ praised the governing body for trying to bring more affordable housing to the city, but she doubted the coastal cottages would be affordable enough for her and others like her.

“It’s not just me,” she said. “It’s a lot of people who can’t afford to live here anymore.”

Councilman Antwan McClellanCQ, who sits on the Planning Board, replied to the criticisms by saying that the only way to make things better in the city would be to try something different.

“If it doesn’t work, then hey, we try something else,” he said, “but try it, and go forward from there, as opposed to killing something without trying it.”

Contact Lee Procida:

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More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.