WILDWOOD - City leaders, looking for a way to rid the town of abandoned and dilapidated properties, are hoping to have the community named an area in need of rehabilitation.

The state designation would be an advantage when the city or private property owners seek the government's help through grants or low-interest loan programs to development or improve troubled properties.

"You drive around town … and you see there are a lot of substandard structures," Wildwood Commissioner Peter Byron said.

Byron, who has lived on the island since the 1970s and works in real estate, said the vacant and deteriorating buildings deter investors from buying here.

"I've been looking for tools to encourage people to come into the town," he said.

He said he would hope to see places such as Pacific Avenue, for instance, shrink the commercial area and bring back residential units.

According to state statute, an area, or even an entire town, can be deemed in need of rehabilitation if the town's government determines that:

- A significant portion of structures therein are in a deteriorated or substandard condition.

- There is a continuing pattern of vacancy, abandonment or underuse of properties in the area, with a persistent problem with property-tax payments being in arrears.

- A program of rehabilitation may be expected to prevent further deterioration and promote the overall development of the community.

City Commission has requested the Planning Board complete an investigation, undertaken by city planner Stuart Wiser, to determine if the city meets those requirements.

If the board finds it does, then the city can apply to the state.

Being named an area in need of rehabilitation then would be used when the city applies for public funding for infrastructure improvements, housing rehabilitation and street improvements.

"Anytime you can take substandard housing and replace it with good housing, it's a good thing," Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said.

The city, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, has 6,843 total housing units. Of those, 2,251 are occupied, and 4,592 are deemed vacant. Of those vacant homes, 3,035 are for seasonal or recreational use.

The city also has 4,375 motel or hotel rooms.

"We know a lot of the substandard housing," Troiano said, adding the city would have to identify all of those properties.

Troiano said the process is akin to holding up a mirror and identifying what can be changed.

In addition to the rehabilitation designation, Byron said, the town is looking to revamp its master plan.

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