West Palm Beach gives 45th Street Flea Market another month to fix problems

The city’s Nuisance Abatement Board on Thursday heard a status check on the market, which has been criticized as a magnet for crime, prostitution and drug sales. It’s been the scene of several shootings, including a fatal one Sept. 28.

The board has the power to temporarily, or permanently, shut down a business, but did neither Thursday. It directed the market to return in May with another update.

The board heard Thursday the market had met board concerns by:

— Evicting troubled tenant merchants and consolidating the rest, reducing its floor space by one-third.

— Doing background checks on current merchants.

— Stationing three armed private security officers.

Bernard A. Lebedeker, attorney for property owner Sidney Spiegel, said after the meeting that all those things were done before the board’s vote Feb. 6 to declare the market a “nuisance property.” That vote had come after the board heard an informant bought marijuana four different times over several months.

Lebedeker said Thursday that, since the Feb. 6 action, the market also has installed some two dozen security cameras.

The board did vote Thursday to require the market do background checks on employees of any current tenants.

The city had separately declared the place a “chronic nuisance” on Jan. 22, citing hundreds of code violations. The market has a separate “action plan” to resolve those.

“Progress is being made,” Lebedeker told the board.

Spiegel was not at Thursday’s board meeting. Flea market operator Young Lai Yoo did attend, with his attorney, Jonathan Jones. He did not speak.

Jones has said his client is working with the city to resolve the problems and has a zero-tolerance policy toward crime among its merchants. He has said the flea market will not voluntarily shut down.

Officer John Scollo told the board Thursday that police have made 21 police calls — ranging from three trespassing cases to one assault — since Feb. 21.

At a Feb. 10 meeting with city leaders, at which people who live near the market demanded the city shut it down, residents of nearby neighborhoods had noted police came more than 250 times to the flea market alone. At the same time, they said, police came 39 times to three neighborhoods combined.

Neighbors have angrily challenged Spiegel’s Jan. 28 statement that it’s not his fault the market is surrounded by an area plagued by crime. His lawyer has said the rundown surroundings would have driven away other businesses long ago.

On Thursday, Jaqueline Smith, the leader of the citizens group Concerned Residents of Westfield, wanted to know why the board has shut down other businesses that haven’t been the scene of murders. She said seven murders have been reported at the flea market over many years.

“The city is aggressively trying to clean up the north end, and they’re not going to clean it up while that flea market’s there,” said Ron Dixon, president of the North Shore Neighborhood Association.

“What does it take to close this place down? Do we have to wait until some child playing in their yard is hit by bullets?”

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