Framingham Building Commissioner Michael Tusino has determined The Walden Center for Education and Research, Inc. application for a building permit is qualified under the Dover Amendment to construct an educational institute at the former Marist property at 518 Pleasant St.
The Dover amendment allows applicants to avoid zoning restrictions, if they are a agricultural, religious or educational corporation.
The decision can be appealed.
Construction can not begin on the property yet. Walden will still need to go before the Framingham Planning Board for site plan review approval, before receiving a building permit.
Tusino, wrote after careful examination, he determined the proposed project qualified as an educational use for the following reasons:
- Program of space requirements as prepared by GMI Architects
- Schedules of educational programs prepared by Walden Center for Education
- Bowditch & Dewey narrative of the project
- Bowditch & Dewey narrative and explanation of staff roles and responsibilities
- Floor plans submitted by the architects
- Use & occupancy classification report prepared by the architects
- Building permit application submitted
Last fall, the Framingham Zoming Board voted 2-1 to issue a special permit for Walden Behavioral at the Marist property. A unanimous vote was needed for approval of the project.
Walden and the Marist Brothers filed an appeal of the ZBA vote to land court, but Walden also then filed a Dover amendment application with the town, citing a change in the project to more of an educational purpose.
The first (non-Dover) plan called for a main building for inpatient care with 24 beds for patients with eating disorders, 24 beds for patients with mood disorders and offices for 20 Walden staff. Plus a smaller building with offices for human resources, finance, billing and accounting departments. Walden then planned to apply for a 16-bed residential two-story, 12,000-square-foot facility to treat adults who are obese or have binge-eating disorder, a 16-bed, 12,000-square-foot two-story residential facility for adolescents and a 10,000-square-foot, one-story building for program offices, and intake and aftercare services.
The new Dover plan includes the old plan plus construction of a Center for Research and Education.
A therapeutic and educational on-site program would allow adolescents and adults to learn strategies and techniques to fully recover from their disorders, wrote Walden's lawyers in the letter to the Town of Framingham.
While treatment will still be provided under the Walden Center plan, an emphasis will be placed on education and research.
“Even within the medical community, much needs to be learned about eating disorders, which affect about five percent of the population and a much larger percentage when you include individuals with weight management issues,” said Stuart Koman, who serves as President and CEO of both the Walden Center and Walden Behavioral Care in a press release. “Our focus on education and research will, we hope lead to a greater understanding of eating disorders and a higher rate of recovery.”
Koman said Walden will continue to work with Framingham residents and town officials to address any concerns that have, adding, “We will be good neighbors.”
The non-profit Walden Center was created more than a year ago because of the need for greater education and research in the field of neurobehavioral disorders, such as eating disorders and mood disorders, Koman said. Articles of organization for the nonprofit group were initially filed in 2002.
Walden Center’s education programs include:
The School-Based Eating Disorder Prevention Program, which provides educational presentations to middle schools and high schools throughout New England.
Ongoing presentations, providing eating disorder education to healthcare professionals at colleges and other groups.
An annual conference that attracts hundreds of mental health and medical professionals.
Clinical training throughout the year for mental health and medical professionals.
Individual, group and family therapy, which is an essential part of the treatment process for those with eating disorders or neurobehavioral disorders.
Koman said the project will maintain the natural setting of The Marist Center, with a significant amount of open space and an aesthetically attractive campus. The project will also contribute to the local economy by adding new jobs, while providing a much needed service that previously was unavailable in Framingham.
Walden has already begun to reach out to Framingham schools to help educate students about eating disorders and will continue to do so, Koman said.
“We remain committed to bringing a world-class facility to MetroWest and believe this project can do much good for the Town of Framingham,” he said. “It will create jobs, preserve and enhance an important piece of property, and serve the needs of the community.”