Flea market fire unveils squatter issue in Laurelton

By Sadef Ali Kully

A fire destroyed parts of the long-closed Merrick Flea Market at Merrick Boulevard in Laurelton last week and the property manager from BP Real Estate Investors boarded up the windows for safety.

But residents and community leaders gathered Monday with Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), the FDNY and the city Department of Health to voice their concerns about a homeless man who has been squatting on and off for the last two years on the private property, the illegally parked cars for sale, dumped furniture and construction trash.

“It has become a dumping site, but more than that it has become a safety hazard, a nuisance and a health issue,” Dwight Johnson, president of the Federated Blocks of Laurelton, said. “It needs to be completely sealed off.”

The fire occurred Aug. 25, according to the FDNY, and there were no victims.

The squatter did not mind the city FDNY, the Council member or the DOH visiting the property where he has set up his home. He threw his sunglasses on and sat on a chair while blasting a R&B music from his radio. He had created a makeshift living room with an old red leather couch and bedroom with a dresser out of other people’s trash.

Members of the Federated Blocks of Laurelton said he was not bothersome to anyone but does not always use the best judgment.

“During the winter, he has a bonfire going to beat the cold,” Johnston said. “We want someone professional to come out and help him.”

Johnston said the squatter even swept up the property and fed the birds bread.

“We are all God’s creatures,” the squatter yelled but would not speak further. He declined to be identified.

Johnston said his group contacted the property owner about the dumping ground but has not gotten a response.

“The Department of Health said they would issue a health compliance and we will see if that helps,” Richards said. “This is a real problem – someone could have gotten really hurt.”

The owner of the illegally parked vehicles on the private property showed up when he saw the Fire Department and a group surrounding the spot.

“This is a private matter,” the owner of the illegally parked BMW and Chevrolet Lumina said when asked why he parked those cars on private property.

Richards said the property had many summonses but nothing had been done to address the issue by the city.

“It devalues the neighborhood,” Donovan said.

The Merrick Flea Market opened in 2011 after the Aqueduct Flea Market in South Ozone Park shut down. But a couple of years later, the 25,000 square feet of warehouse space that was turned into a flea market also shut down and is currently not in use.

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

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