In some ways, Ocean City is a victim of its own success.
The town that calls itself "America's Greatest Family Resort" has done an amazing job of marketing its attributes as a summer getaway. On a July weekend, it's hard to imagine that the island could hold any more people without sinking under their weight.
All those visitors need places to stay, and over the years the city accommodated them by allowing duplexes to take over the town. Most of these duplexes are occupied by their owners or renters during the summer and are vacant for most of the year.
Quiet winters with empty streets are not a new story in shore towns, but those towns have always had a vibrant core of year-round residents. What is new, and what some in Ocean City find alarming, is that this seems to be changing.
Ocean City's permanent population is shrinking dramatically. The city lost nearly a quarter of its residents from 2000 to 2010, going from a population of almost 15,378 to 11,701 - the fewest number of residents since the 1970 Census. Only 28 percent of the city's housing units are occupied full time, down from 37 percent in 1990.
And that population is getting older, with a higher percentage of residents over 65. So the city isn't just losing people; it is losing families.
Ocean City's demographics mirror the rest of Cape May County, one of only two counties in New Jersey that showed a population loss in the 2010 Census.
Owners of second homes pay taxes, but they can't bring all the things to a community that year-round residents do. As full-time populations shrink, businesses have a tougher time staying open all year. Community groups and service organizations have trouble finding members. Churches lack lay volunteers. Schools lack students. In fact, Sea Isle City closed its elementary school this year, sending its remaining students to its northerly neighbor, Ocean City.
Ocean City's Planning Board is trying to address the population decline in its new master plan, which will be the subject of a public hearing at the city library on Oct. 3.
The idea is to encourage year-round families by encouraging the development of single-family homes. Proposed changes would make it more difficult to build duplexes, especially on smaller lots. Under one change, for instance, a block that already contained 41 percent duplexes would no longer be automatically zoned for duplexes, as is now the case.
But how much difference could these changes make? There aren't many undeveloped lots in Ocean City - there aren't even that many original homes waiting to be redeveloped. And property values on the island simply price many families out of the market.
So the question is whether this effort comes too late. In a town where boxy duplexes dominate block after block, is it possible to reverse that trend?
To which there is really only one answer:
It's worth a try.