Current efforts at City Hall to address the loss of year-round residents in Ocean City are worthwhile.
Implementing incentives and reducing fees associated with new construction are wise options for the city’s planners and elected officials to consider. In fact, any opportunities to encourage people to live in Ocean City should be up for deliberation.
The assumption currently is Ocean City is too expensive to live because it’s an island. The reality is the cost of living and owning property in Ocean City is in many cases not higher than other areas, say Berlin. It simply depends on where in Ocean City a property is located. For example, in the case of one local resident, the cost of owning a three-bedroom home on a small lot in Caine Woods was about half the cost of owning a larger home on a large lot in Berlin when taxes and services offered were considered. There is a perception problem among many.
The larger problem currently being tackled in Ocean City has nothing to do with perception, however. The reality is it costs a lot more to build a home on the island of Ocean City than it does a couple miles to the north in Fenwick Island or to the west in Bishopville.
Ocean City property owner Greg Demarco rightly took his beef over this fact to the council last February. He said, “I want to address the major difference it costs to build a home in Worcester County compared to Sussex County, Delaware. I have a lot in Ocean City and I’m trying to build a modular home on it. I have been working with two different builders and each one has told me to expect it to cost $40,000 to $50,000 more to build it in Ocean City.”
Demarco is not alone with his concerns. People are still building in Ocean City on the few empty lots remaining, but most of the time it’s with investment, not residency, in mind. This is a difficult challenge for most seasonal resorts to overcome.
The fact is Ocean City’s year-round population has been steadily declining, according to the U.S. Census. A 2018 projection for the Census found 6,927 year-round residents compared to 7,102 in the official 2010 count. Census 2000 had the population at 7,172. From 2000 to 2018, that’s a 3% percent loss. The 2020 Census will surely confirm the trend.
This is a not a major exodus of year-round population for Ocean City. However, it’s noteworthy because the rest of northern Worcester County is seeing marked increases in population.
There will be no simple fix to curb this trend, but studying, evaluating and learning from other destinations is a good start.