WOBURN - Declaring the property a public nuisance, the City Council recently instructed City Solicitor Ellen Callahan-Doucette to initiate receivership proceedings against a Russell Court residence.

During their latest gathering in City Hall, City Council President Lindsay Higgins reluctantly recommended the extreme action after 8 Russell Court owner Andrew Merlino allegedly again failed to make any progress in removing a substantial number of junk cars and other trash and debris from his West Side property.

According to the Ward 7 alderman, whose district includes the Burlington-line area property of of Russell Street, she felt she had no other choice after more than a year of failed attempts to convince Merlino to cleanup his yard.

"There is no intention to take this property from this gentleman," said Higgins, who acknowledged the 75-year-old is dealing with some medical issues. "This is hopefully the step where he will make some improvements. Then in the future, we can withdraw this motion."

Situated within a single-family neighborhood by Whispering Hill and Mary Cummings Park, Merlino's .64-acre property contains a 1,855-square foot home that's grandfathered in as a two-family dwelling, according to records from the city assessor's office. The land and home, which dates back to 1920, is presently valued by the city at $508,700.

For years now, Merlino's neighbors have complained about overgrown shrubs and plantings and an unspecified number of unregistered cars and trucks that are strewn about the lot.

The elderly West Side resident, who has previously submitted letters from his physician that explain the disabled citizen cannot perform heavy laboring, was not in attendance at the latest meeting.

Higgins on behalf of the neighborhood initiated the public nuisance proceedings against Merlino back in Nov. of 2019. Since that time, Building Commissioner Thomas Quinn and the city's health department have documented various code and city ordinance violations at the West Side home.

The council, on multiple occasions asking the homeowner to remove the junk cars and cleanup trash and other debris from the yard, had prior to their latest unanimous vote continued the public nuisance hearing six times since last November.

"This matter has been going on for quite a while. There's been numerous complaints going on for years," Higgins explained at the outset of the latest hearing. "I think we now need to accept the [building commissioner's] Sept. 23, 2020 recommendation and declare this property a public nuisance."

"There just haven't' been enough improvements there," the Ward 7 alderman continued. "[Ward 2 Alderman Richard] Gately and I have gone out of our way to try to assist him, but he hasn't accepted any of our help or suggestions."

During the latest public hearing, Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen testified to the City Council president's patience and willingness to compromise with Merlino over the past year.

According to Mercer-Bruen, given the lack of follow-up, she believes Higgins is justified in taking such an extreme next step.

"I support Alderman Higgins 100 percent. She's done a great job and been extremely patient. It's not fair to the other neighbors that no progress has been made," said the East Woburn official.

Historically, the council uses its public nuisance powers as leverage to nudge landlords into making improvements on rundown properties. In most circumstances, the threat of a formal public nuisance declaration is enough to convince homeowners to conduct maintenance and repairs.

However, if attempts at mediation fail, the City Council retains the authority to order cleanup operations, and it has in limited circumstances even ordered entire buildings razed. Should such a mandate be ignored, the city can step in and perform the tasks on its own at the property owner's expense.

The aldermen most recently employed its demolition authority under the public nuisance ordinance in late April, when the council declared that a Hilltop Parkway property poses a variety of public health safety threats.

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