Newport Beach and a boat owner are on a collision course over restoration

When Newport Beach restricted long-term backyard ship restoration in residential neighborhoods, it was pretty clear whose project city officials had in mind.

Dennis Holland was pulling apart his 72-foot wooden sailboat Shawnee next to his home in a quiet neighborhood near the Back Bay.

More than a year later, he’s still working on it.

Holland’s permit to finish the reconstruction expires Sunday. Before the city extends it, officials are demanding a completion date. With more than half the work remaining, materials coming from afar and the boat’s beams exposed, Holland said he can’t estimate a date.

Unless he or the city takes a different tack, the appear to on a collision course.

“He’s got to remove the boat if he’s not completed with it,” said acting Planning Director Jim Campbell. “If he wants more time, one thing I would like to know is when he can finish the boat. That seems logical to me.”


Holland, a master shipwright, said he and his 24-year-old son, Dennis Jr., have made progress on rebuilding the 1916 ship. They’ve scooped out 1,700 pounds of dirt and sludge from the bilge and taken it to a dump. They’ve removed and inspected the keel bolts. Holland has even ordered Douglas fir planking from Oregon and white oak from an Amish friend in Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, he’s being treated for prostate cancer and said the boat is his best therapy.

“It’s really stressful because it’s hard to work and carry on when you have this hanging over your head,” Holland said of the permit process. “If the city would have left me alone, the boat would be halfway done by now.”

The ordinance, passed in November 2009, allows the city to grant permits for such long-term construction projects but limits them to six months. Holland received his six-month permit in July.

On his first application, Holland left blank the section that asks for a completion date.

“That’s impossible for me to come up with,” he said.

But it’s only reasonable to require a date, said newly elected Councilman Rush Hill. Hill represents District 3, which includes Holland’s home on Holiday Road. Some of Holland’s neighbors have complained to Hill.

The project has “has stretched calmness and compassion to frustration and distrust,” Hill wrote in an e-mail.

Dalia Lugo’s bedroom window overlooks the Shawnee’s stern and part of Holland’s yard. Holland hauled the Shawnee from Newport Harbor, where it had been foundering, to his side yard about five years ago. That was just after Lugo moved into her new home.

“We admire his love for what he’s doing,” she said. “It should just not be in the neighborhood.”

Hill agreed: “A boat-works construction yard should not be allowed in a residential district.”

Some of Holland’s friends started a petition to support the Shawnee project, and about 100 to 150 people have signed it, said Bill Dunlap, a Newport Beach resident and past commodore of the Wooden Hull Yacht Club, which promotes restoration of such boats.

Many signers are from the marine community, Dunlap said, but he didn’t know if any are Holland’s neighbors.

Holland said that he intends to fight the ordinance, possibly in court, and that the neighbors shouldn’t complain.

“The boat will be gone before you know it,” he said. “You just have to enjoy life.”