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Neighborhood features homes for disabled

COVINGTON - The county's first neighborhood to be certified by a national program promoting accessible homes was recognized by local officials Thursday.

The grand opening for Brookline, a subdivision off the Covington ByPass under development by Richport Properties, took place with the usual ribbon-cutting ceremony. But what is unusual about the development is that it will be built according to criteria established by the EasyLiving Home Program, the nation's first voluntary certification program specifying criteria for accessibility.

According to EasyLiving Home Director Bonnie Bonham, the program has established criteria that builders must meet to be certified. The result are homes that are more suitable for senior living and access for people with disabilities.

The criteria include at least one step-free entrance, 32-inch clear passage doors throughout the home, one maneuverable bathroom with at least 30 x 48 inches of space in front of commode, sink, bathtub and shower and a full master bathroom and bedroom on the first floor.

"If (builders) are interested, they register with our program. We work with them through site development and house plans and make sure they incorporate all our features," Bonham said.

All homes must be inspected to make sure they meet the certification requirements, she said.

Though Richport Properties has been building in Covington for four years, Brookline is the company's first EasyLiving community, according to Vice President Lee Williams.

"It is a relatively simple thing to do and as we've gotten better informed about it, it seemed like the right thing to do," he said.

Williams said that while the homes would obviously be appealing to the active older adult market, the benefits of easy access aren't limited to the senior set.

"Anybody who's ever moved furniture into a house and banged into a doorway will appreciate a wider doorway. Anybody who's tried to carry a sleeping child at night will appreciate a wider doorway," he said.

Covington Mayor Sam Ramsey and Board of Commissioners Chairman Aaron Varner turned out for the grand opening.

"We at the city try really hard to try to get good zoning regulations down in black and white, but I've found out one thing - you can't legislate good taste," Ramsey said. "This looks like it's going to be something that's done and done right."

Varner said the county and city work hard to plan so that "everybody will have the opportunity to live where they want to live."

"I think this fills a certain little niche of people looking for this type of development," he said. "Certainly, if we don't have it, they have to go somewhere else.

"As my generation gets a few years older, more and more are going to need houses like this. Who knows - I may move into one myself someday," he added.

Bob Goucher, president of the Newton County Home Builders Association, said the EasyLiving certification may give the homes an advantage on the market.

"Our goal is the same as the county and city - to develop sustainable, quality growth in Newton County," Goucher said. "Meeting EasyLiving (criteria) not only makes a house saleable, it also makes it re-saleable."

Brookline will consist of 94 homes, with total build out expected to take about two years, according to Sholanda Smith, the on-site agent.

The homes range in price from $170,00 to $250,000.

EasyLiving has about 800 certified homes throughout the state, according to Bonham.

"We're very proud to have Richport Properties on board and we know that it will be a great benefit to Newton County," she said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.