In MetroWest, business growth gallops ahead . . . but not with a free rein

The welcome mat is out for developers - of office buildings, of retail-commercial enterprises, of light industrial plants, of new hotels, and of residential units - in eight communities west of Boston.

Business is booming for Ashland, Fram-ingham, Natick, Southborough, Sudbury, Wayland, Wellesley, and Weston - which have formed a coalition they call MetroWest.

By 1990 these towns are expected to employ 17,340 more people, according to studies by one state agency. They will be the sites of an additional 3.8 million square feet of office space, 1.5 million square feet of retail-commercial area, and 600,000 square feet of hotel space. And 2,536 units of new housing, including subsidized structures as well as condominiums, are expected to be built.

These predictions come from studies by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) - an independent state agency supported by 101 cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts. But these studies also show that many problems - if not addressed now - may accompany the boom.

Traffic in several busy areas already has an F rating (on a scale of A to F) by the MAPC. Water supply, considered adequate in most communities, is already being hit by contamination from industrial wastes. And sewers and waste disposal are slipping toward becoming inadequate in some areas.

The economic rise of the Framingham-Natick area along Route 9 began Oct. 4, 1951, with the opening of Shoppers World. Today a new, larger Shoppers World is being built, heralding new growth for MetroWest. (The original is slated to be rebuilt as an ultramodern enclosed mall.)

MetroWest organized last July to address problems created by ''increased commercial and office development, before they occur.'' The coalition invited MAPC to research how rapid growth will affect the area by 1990.

The assessment? ''Situation chaotic by 1990'' if changes are not made, the MAPC study team says.

''Solutions are not apparent, and they will be expensive to implement,'' says James Hopson, president of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce and publisher of the Middlesex News. ''Our challenge at MetroWest will be to identify our problems, propose adequate solutions, and find the right support and funding from our own resources, as well as federal and state sources.''

Describing the area as ''the real cradle of high-tech development,'' Mr. Hopson says he expects growth to continue westward to Interstate 495.

The next step is to create a successor agency to implement MetroWest's recommendations, says Erica E. Ball, Natick selectwoman. ''New technology can put us on the cutting edge of softening the impact of growth,'' she says. ''Our towns are working together for the first time. People will know what's going on.''

''I'm surprised to see these communities working together so well,'' says Elizabeth A. Bransfield, MAPC president and South Natick resident. ''This would not have happened 10 years ago. . . . We can work it out together without dumping all the problems on Boston.''

Mark Siegenthaler, MetroWest program director who headed the MAPC study team, assesses the growth issues:

Transportation. The two main east-west arteries of the region, Routes 9 and 30, are already ''a serious problem.'' An alternate road, Route 135, is reaching capacity. Connecting north-south roads are not as congested.

Short-term remedies can only serve as ''holding actions'' in traffic while long-range solutions are planned, says Dan Beagan of the MAPC. ''Our basic difficulty is that people out here use cars - 90 percent,'' he says. Only Wellesley, a college town, uses public transportation (11 percent of the people).

The ultimate answer - adding lanes to the Route 9-Route 30 corridor - is expensive, Mr. Beagan says. ''It would cost $100 million to buy the right-of-way alone.''

Water. The major concern is contamination, not a shortage, says another MAPC report. The report advises more recharge mechanisms for replenishing local supplies and a reduction of the use of local water for sewerage purposes. Contamination has forced the closing of two wells in Weston. Higher sodium levels are reported to contaminate some water in Natick, Wellesley, and Framingham.

Waste disposal. Waste disposal facilities (sewer and septic) are expected to be adequate until 1990. But current facilities show signs of wear, posing a potential detriment to growth. Framingham Extension Sewer - serving Ashland, Framingham, and Natick - and Wellesley's two sewer systems sometimes flood during peak volume flow.

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