The Framingham Zoning Board of Appeals voted 2-1 Monday night to grant a special permit for Walden Behavioral Care for the former Marist property site.
When a Zoning Board only has three members, the vote must be unanimous for a special permit to be approved. The applicant can appeal the decision.
ZBA Chair Philip Ottaviani, Jr. was the lone vote against the special permit.
Ottaviani said he had one hurdle he just couldn't get over. He said he did not truly believe the use was in "harmony with the neighborhood."
Walden argued it met "all the criteria for a special permit."
Walden attorney Jim Hanrahan said at the "end of the day the issue is not harmony, it is whether it is appropriate."
He said opposition fell into two categories - "traffic and fear of people with mental illness being treated here."
Hanrahan said Walden would bring a "first-class medical facility to Framingham and provide a much needed service to the people in this community."
Zoning Board member Susan Craighead, who voted in favor of the special permit, said "there is not going to be a huge impact on the neighbors."
She added this will have "less impact on the neighborhood than the Brophy School."
Zoning Board member Stephen Meltzer said the proposed eating disorder treatment center should not be "compared to the Marist site."
"The Marist site is gone and it is not coming back," said Meltzer, who added the Walden proposal "easily satisfies all conditions" for a special permit.
Ottaviani said he doesn't believe "commercial use belongs in a residential zone."
Saying it was the hardest vote he has taken, and that he typically is the pro-business voice on the ZBA, Ottaviani said there are "a lot of reasons to vote for it and a few reasons to vote against it."
Besides the "harmony of the neighborhood," Ottaviani cited traffic concerns and said the "intersection sucks."
Craighead disagreed. She said "I don't see it as being a huge impact to the traffic" adding the applicant was willing to make road improvements including paying for creating a right-hand turn lane.
She described Walden as being "very responsive to the neighbors concerns."
The Zoning Board motion to approve the special permit had a draft decision with 25 conditions. The draft was not available to the public tonight. The ZBA administrator said it would be available to the public on decision deadline day, Oct. 31.
Walden has 20 days to appeal the decision.
Waltham-based Walden Behavioral Care first proposed an 80-bed treatment center for the former Marist Retreat Center at 518 Pleasant St. in May.
The company wanted the Framingham Zoning Board of Appeals to approve a special permit, as the area is zoned as R-3 single-family residential. The company wanted to renovate existing buildings on the site and add 2-3 more buildings, estimated at 40,000 square feet.
The Roman Catholic order, also known as The Society of Mary, opened the Marist House as a seminary in 1939.
The property was utilized for more than 70 years as a retreat center for the Marist Fathers of Boston. It closed in July 2011. Marist Brothers cited budget issues and close to a $41 million worth of deferred maintenance as reasons to close.
Zoned as residential property and assessed at $4.5 million, Wyman Street Advisors estimated in 2012 that the property could fetch $5-$8 million.
Operating since 2003, Walden Behavioral Care, specializes in behavioral health services including but not limited to eating disorders anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. It does treat and house psychiatric patients at some of its locations, too.
More than 500 residents signed a petition against the proposal and submitted the petition to the ZBA. Ottaviani cited that petition when voting against the special permit.