Residents of Novi's Lake Wall subdivision fear city might end lake access

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published April 5, 2023

 Residents of the Lake Wall Subdivision say they have enjoyed deeded access to Walled Lake, as seen in this 2017 photo, for more than 100 years, but a court case involving the city might take that away.

Residents of the Lake Wall Subdivision say they have enjoyed deeded access to Walled Lake, as seen in this 2017 photo, for more than 100 years, but a court case involving the city might take that away.

Photo provided by Joe Bertera

 A pathway leads to the dock in question.

A pathway leads to the dock in question.

Photo provided by Joe Bertera

NOVI — Residents of the historic Lake Wall subdivision, which was first deeded in 1919, have rallied after the city of Novi took legal action to remove the access privileges to Walled Lake of one of their neighbors, which they fear could remove lake access for all of them.

According to resident Joe Bertera, the city of Novi, in Oakland County Circuit Court, is accusing his neighbor, Emanuel N. Malles II, of running a marina on Walled Lake and charging residents to use the dock there. Bertera has made a point to address the issue by speaking during public comment at the last three Novi City Council meetings, along with his neighbors.

He said the city is using the lawsuit to try to shut down what is the entire 40-home neighborhood’s dock, which he said is on land that all the neighborhood's homeowners own. He said they don't know why Malles is the one being sued. Bertera said that if the city succeeds in shutting down the dock, it will devastate families and property values. Residents have said they will move if they lose their lake privileges, as lake access is what attracted them to the area. According to the residents, their property values will go down anywhere from $60,000 to $150,000 without the lake privileges.

“There is not a single resident in our neighborhood that is in charge over another resident; we all share our deeded lake access. Our neighborhood is like a family that Novi is trying to disband by using a flawed ordinance,” said Bertera.

Bertera said the residents all contributed to the $15,000 cost for the new dock, where they all dock their boats during the summer months.

“For four months out of the year, people can get out and socialize,” explained Danielle Pierre. “That’s more important to me, to see kids out there playing respectfully in the water, going out with their parents, talking to their neighbors. Just getting that sense of community and neighborhood vibe that you don’t see much anymore. … Then you have the city trying to take away that kind of environment is what totally devastated me. It’s disappointing to think that the city would want to do that for whatever reason.”

Resident Jen Cooper spoke to the council March 20 of her fear of losing the dream home that she and her husband built from the ground up over the last eight years.

“To be honest, if the dock is taken away from the neighborhood, we will probably sell our dream home and move out of Novi. After hearing all of our stories, please think about the emotional distress you will be putting us through by taking our dock away from us,” said Cooper.

According to Bertera, the city is using an ordinance from 1986. Ordinance 86-18.20 was created to regulate the development and use of lakefront property in the city of Novi, and it is known as the Novi lakefront protection ordinance. In a letter dated July 1, 1986, resident Jerry Bertrand said that the ordinance was a keyhole ordinance and asked that residents of the subdivision be grandfathered in, as their deeds include lake access and they had been enjoying lakefront privileges for 70 years at the time.

“What we have been trying to convey to the Novi City Council — this ordinance was drafted in 1986 and clearly written to control future growth around the lake, not to be used 37 years later against our 100-year-old neighborhood to take away our boat dock,” Bertera said.

According to the residents, although they are not all named, they believe that if the city succeeds in doing this to one of their neighbors, it is only a matter of time before the city comes after them.

“I encourage the city to drop this frivolous lawsuit against its taxpaying residents,” resident Allen Scott told the council during the March 20 meeting.

Interim City Manager Victor Cardenas and City Attorney Elizabeth Saarela both declined to comment on the case. Malles’ attorney, Richard Linnell, did not return a request for comment as of press time. The residents plan to continue to voice their concerns during the public comment sessions of City Council meetings until the case is resolved.