Holland, Newport Beach reach agreement on ship project

Newport Beach officials and shipwright Dennis Holland came to an agreement Friday that, if approved by a judge, will allow him to keep restoring his 1916 wooden ship at his West Bay home.

As long as Holland moves the Shawnee out of public view and follows the city's construction laws, he can rebuild the vintage ketch there, according to a statement by the city attorney's office.

The agreement may end a protracted legal battle between Holland, the city and neighbors who contend the restoration has no place on their block. Holland now has four months to disassemble the ship, which is visible from his street. He then plans to rebuild it in his backyard.

"The boat will be saved and that's what we all wanted," Holland said Saturday. "This is a way out for everybody."

As a part of the settlement, Holland admitted that he was violating a 2009 city law intended to keep such construction projects out of residential neighborhoods. City officials sued Holland last year, and Superior Court Judge Gregory Munoz ordered in March that he move the boat by Monday or face steep fines and jail time.

Holland had already racked up thousands of dollars in fines, but city officials agreed to dismiss them, he said, as part of the agreement.

If the terms are approved, City Attorney Aaron C. Harp said in a statement, "the [city] will achieve its goal and Mr. Holland will be able to keep his boat… This judgment will help to restore the residential character of this neighborhood."

Also, Holland agreed to drop his counter suit against the city.

Holland plans to disassemble the wooden boat, lay out its parts in the sideyard where it sits now, clean the parts and re-build the Shawnee in his back yard. Holland said it would be at least 18 months after he finishes deconstruction before he could begin to re-build.

The 72-foot ship's bow juts out from his Holiday Road home today, drawing attention from passers by. Holland said he will open his home on special days so people can still come check on the boat's progress.

The city's news release said that based on local laws, Holland would probably not be able to finish the restoration there, although it did not offer any specifics. On Saturday, Holland said that wasn't his understanding, and that he planned to finish the project there and lift it out with a crane when complete.

To hide the boat from neighbors, Holland plans to move his kids' treehouse and will let his trees grow. He says that "only helicopters and airplanes" will be able to see the ship.

Mike Lugo, who shares a fence with Holland's back yard, wasn't completely satisfied with the agreement. He says the project has dragged on long enough, and should be finished elsewhere, but this will at least get the boat out of the public eye.

"It's a positive for the neighborhood but not positive for the neighbors," Lugo said. "We, through our window, have looked at that eyesore for six years."

At times, the debate about the Shawnee turned emotional. Holland, a cancer survivor, said that the ship restoration was therapeutic and that forcing him to remove the boat would threaten his recovery.

Historic ship enthusiasts from around the country rallied in his defense. Some donned pirate costumes and pleaded at a City Council meeting to save the Shawnee.

"It was never about the boat," said Councilman Rush Hill, who represents the district. "It was always about an industrial activity in a residential neighborhood."

Officials anticipate the judge will review the agreement Monday.

Holland says the judge hasn't given him a fair hearing so far, but "I just have to go on, and sharpen my tools, and get back to work."

mike.reicher@latimes.com

Twitter: @mreicher

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