DENNIS — When the town purchased Melpet Farm in 2001, local residents had no idea their dream of turning the property into affordable housing would be deferred for nearly a decade.
But after years of problems that led to a turnover in housing authority management, a state audit and a decision by the state Supreme Judicial Court, the property finally has a developer.
Last month, the Dennis Board of Selectmen awarded the nonprofit Housing Assistance Corp. of Hyannis a $6.4 million contract to construct a 27-unit, 52-bedroom affordable housing complex on the now-vacant Route 134 property.
The complex will include eight New England-style buildings containing one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, said Gisele Gauthier, director of housing development for HAC.
"We feel we're turning a corner here and really doing something terrific and productive with the land," she said.
"It's finally going to happen," Selectman Sheryl McMahon said. "We need affordable rental units for the town."
The project architect, Brown, Lindquist, Fenuccio and Raber of Yarmouthport, will maintain a family-friendly and community feel on the acreage now dominated by paddocks, white fences and a red barn, Gauthier said.
The apartments will stand in a ring with the road outside and a green field inside so children can run out their back doors and play in a safe space, Gauthier said.
Except for the barn, all of the buildings, including a vacant apartment building, will be torn down, said Dennis Town Administrator Richard White.
The goal "is to keep the aesthetics of the property as intact as possible," White said.
The town has put out a separate request for proposals to develop some type of farm where the former stable now stands. White said an earlier request to encourage agricultural use of the property wasn't specific enough, so it's going out to bid a second time.
When town meeting members agreed to purchase Melpet Farm for $2 million more than nine years ago, they prevented the 20-acre property from being developed into an A&P supermarket.
The original plan was to replace Melpet's 14 existing apartments with double that number to increase sorely needed affordable housing in town, after setting aside 12 acres for conservation land.
But a combination of bad luck and financial mismanagement almost resulted in foreclosure.
Contractors hired without the benefit of a formal bidding process by former Dennis Housing Authority commissioners gutted apartments to the walls and left them empty, as revealed in an investigation by the Cape Cod Times.
Former housing authority Executive Director Kathy Barrasso ended up quitting suddenly in October 2002, leaving the authority holding the bag for a $400,000 Citizens Bank renovation loan.
A state audit in 2007 commended the housing authority for making financial and ethical reforms in the wake of the mess, but the investors holding the loan, Faneuil Investment Group, threatened to foreclose on the 6.4 acres intended for affordable housing.
The town responded by taking ownership of the property from the housing authority in 2008, saying it was authorized to do so under a "reverter clause" as a result of the misdeeds of the previous housing authority officials.
Faneuil Investment Group challenged the move but the state Supreme Judicial Court decision sided with the town in a decision handed down in September.
Town officials wanted to make sure the court case was decided before finally awarding a bid, McMahon said.
The apartments will be available to people earning at or below 60 percent of the area median income, Gauthier said.
At today's rates, a one-bedroom apartment would rent for about $650 a month and a two-bedroom for about $850, she said.
The median household income in Barnstable County from 2005 to 2009 was $60,096, according to the U.S. Census.
It will take about two years to complete the project. In the meantime, McMahon is asking her fellow selectmen to consider enlisting the help of townspeople to rename the property.
"This is a new project, new beginning, new year," McMahon said. "I think it should have a new name."