Homes To Call Their Own

Homes To Call Their Own

Eight townhouses being built with design features to provide disabled residents with greater accessibility.

Living in luxury doesn't always mean marble floors and gold-plated shower heads. For eight future townhouses in Burke Centre, luxury will include design features tailored to the needs of disabled residents.

Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) was instrumental in making sure the building project featuring these "universal designs" got underway, said Rev. Ron Christian, a member of the county's Long Term Care Coordinating Council (LTCCC) and the director at Lutheran Housing Services, a nonprofit dedicated to providing equal opportunities for safe, affordable and adequate housing.

"We would not be here this moment if she had not taken this under her wing," said Christian.

Lutheran Housing Services paired up with Landmark Communities, the Burke Centre Conservancy, federal and county officials and the Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities at George Mason University to build the eight townhouses under the name "Project Independence," at 5501 Oak Leather Drive. Bulova arranged the agreement between Landmark Communities and Lutheran Housing Services back in 2002. All those involved were on hand and smiling as the ribbon was cut at the June 24 ceremony.

THE HOMES are built with universal design to the greatest extent possible. This design feature, which uses products and environments designed for use by all people, creates less need for expensive adaptations. Each resident can tailor the designs to meet their individual needs base on their different disabilities, without having to go in to do massive renovations.

"This is the first rezoning that actually has been tailored for the purpose [of universal design]," said Bulova. "It's courageous of Landmark to make a decision to market to the disabled community."

Bulova said she would like to see more universal design used in the county, so people with disabilities don't have to make expensive renovations to homes without such features. Landmark representatives at the groundbreaking said they have an interest in undertaking more projects of this nature in the future.

"We think its a wonderful opportunity to provide something to a community that doesn't have their needs met on a regular basis," said Bernadette Manara, marketing director at Landmark.

Michael Behrman, director of the Kellar Institute, paired up with Christian through the LTCCC to get the project rolling. GMU graduate students at the Kellar Institute, in a class focusing on designs for adaptive environments, created technologies that would benefit the living environments for people with different disabilities.

"A lot of what they [students] did will end up as options for these units," said Michael Behrman, director at the Kellar Institute.

Christian said all of the homes will be built with elevators, and there will be pre-wiring so residents will have the option to add such things as voice recognition for opening doors or turning on lights. The homes will also include adjustable heights for the kitchen counters and wheel-in bath tubs and showers.

"This project is for physically and sensory disabled persons," said Christian. "It's a first-class operation."

Rep. Tom Davis (D-11) singled out Christian as the driving force behind the project during the ceremony. Davis said Christian never gave up, even as he came across many funding and zoning obstacles at the local and national levels.

"This was really one guy who was willing to navigate all those hurdles and wouldn't take 'no' [for an answer]," said Davis. "It'll make a difference in the lives of eight families."

Phillip Murillas assisted in the reporting of this story.