During several meetings in Lehighton during which parking in the downtown area was discussed, there were comments by Lehighton merchants and borough officials about how well things are going in Palmerton where there are no parking meters.

As a result, some merchants and individuals would like to see the meters in downtown Lehighton removed. Meters, some say, are deterring potential customers from coming to the downtown to shop. They're an inconvenience. They're an unnecessary expense.

Switch to the scene in Palmerton. Last week, some business owners attended a meeting of the town's borough council to complain that serious parking problems exist. It was noted that two-hour time limits aren't being enforced and residents of apartments take up spaces meant for patrons of the businesses.

Should the meters be removed in downtown Lehighton? Should meters be installed in the Palmerton business district?

Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer.

You can't compare downtown shopping with mall shopping, where large parking lots exist, because most downtowns have no room for such facilities. Also, fewer downtowns have anchor stores like malls do to attract large volumes of shoppers.

Yet, where there is a cluster of stores, the only way they will survive is if customers have spaces to park their cars.

What is obvious is that Lehighton business owners who think parking in Palmerton works so perfectly aren't seeing the whole picture. For one thing, it's obvious by the dialogue at last week's Palmerton Borough Council meeting that no parking Utopia exists. Second, Palmerton has angle parking, making for a lot more parking spaces than exist in downtown Lehighton, which means Lehighton will need more controls to assure adequate merchant parking.

There's another factor in the parking woes. The old-time merchants would never park their personal vehicles in spaces meant for customers. In fact, when Bright's was in downtown Lehighton, any employeee who would park at meters could be fired.

Today, merchants and their employees park in spots where customers could be parking.

More residential units are existing in the downtowns, whether they are apartments or mid-rise units, and these people are taking parking spaces.

In the case of Lehighton, meters at least provide an opportunity for police to monitor parking and help assure that merchants have customer parking.

In Palmerton, where no meters exist, it is more difficult to enforce the two-hour parking limit. Police would have to mark tires and make sure vehicles aren't moved within a two-hour period before issuing tickets.

Unless municipalities can invest in building large parking lots, the parking woes are going to continue. Such parking lot construction is unreasonable considering the state of the budgets of most communities.

Whatever changes the councils decide to make regarding parking, they should be considered carefully. Sometimes alterations can make the problem worse than it presently is.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.