City aims to sink shipwright’s project

Dennis Holland, a Newport Beach resident, is restoring a 72-foot yact, the Shawnee, in his backyard.
(FILE PHOTO, Daily Pilot)

NEWPORT BEACH — The city plans to take a local shipwright to court in hopes of forcing him to remove the 72-foot antique sailing ship in his backyard, officials said Wednesday.

“It is an inappropriate use in a residential neighborhood,” City Attorney David Hunt said. “The city has tried to work with him to get the matter resolved, but he hasn’t resolved it, so we will take the next step to protect the residents of the neighborhood.”

Resident Dennis Holland, 65, rescued the Shawnee, a 1916-built ketch, from the scrap yard in 2006. He had the old ship moved to his backyard so he could restore it.

But because of the vessel’s size, neighbors around Holland’s Back Bay-area home on Holiday Road have since complained to city officials that the Shawnee is an eyesore. For years, city officials have wrangled with Holland to wrest a timeline from him as to when he proposes to complete his project.

Holland has never given them a firm date, even though the city gave him a pair of deadlines by granting him two consecutive six-month permits to finish the Shawnee’s restoration.

The City Council even passed an ordinance in 2009 to accommodate the special case, but after the second of those permits expired in January, and Holland had still not finished his project, Newport Beach City Hall began to slap him with fines that now total almost $20,000.

Holland has also violated that 2009 zoning ordinance, which was created because of him and required him to maintain a six-month permit for the project, according to the city.

Reached on Wednesday, Holland said that he still didn’t know when he could finish the work.

Because of the boat’s age, the intensive work to restore her can’t be rushed, and she can’t be moved without more damage, he said.

“She’s 100 years old,” Holland said. “She’s an old lady and needs to be treated like one.”

Holland first set eyes on the boat when he was 8 years old in San Francisco, where the boat was originally docked.

“Her design is unbelievably beautiful,” Holland said. “Just gorgeous. She is like a piece of artwork to me.”

Fixing up the old ship has since become a project for Holland and his son. It is also a form of therapy for Holland, who said he was diagnosed with prostate cancer about seven years ago.

In addition, Holland said the stress from the thousands in fines has been bad for his health. While he did not say if or how he intended to pay the fines, he said he would pursue the matter in court.

“I can’t just walk away from the boat,” Holland said. “She has to be saved. I couldn’t live with myself if I walked away from her.”