City Keeps Pressure on Ill Boat Builder

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Dennis Holland, right, and his son Dennis Jr. take a pause while working on the Shawnee on Monday. Photo by Eric Longabardi

The city is apparently cutting boat builder Dennis Holland, who was hospitalized for several days in the past month, a little slack in its legal effort to get Holland to remove the 72-foot ketch Shawnee from his side yard.

But it’s keeping the pressure on.

Holland had been under a Sept. 1 deadline to remove the boat from the highly visible location beside his home. He has been disassembling the boat since the agreement imposing the deadline was agreed to earlier this year and the city suspended its legal action seeking an immediate remedy.

At a court hearing last week for the judge to review Holland’s compliance with the agreement, the city did not seek sanctions or other harsh measures against Holland for missing the deadline. Instead, city lawyers cited Holland’s medical condition and asked the judge to appoint a receiver to oversee and complete the removal project. A hearing on that request was set for October.

The city is not requiring Holland to remove the boat from his property, as has been reported elsewhere, but to “complete the disassembly and remove the boat from the property or store it in a manner that does not violate the provisions of the Municipal Code,” according to City Attorney Aaron Harp.

The ordinance in question was passed by the City Council specifically to target Holland’s project.

Holland has previously said, and the Independent previously reported, that he is moving the boat all right, but not off his property. Rather, he intends to store the timbers in his backyard, where he says he plans to hide it from view, restore it and put it all back together all in compliance with the city ordinance.

The city has said in a previous public press statement that it “doesn’t believe Mr. Holland can do so.” But for now it seems that legal question remains to be decided by a court if Holland and the city continue to disagree when that time comes.

The Shawnee has been at the Holland’s residence since 2006. That’s when the master shipwright – who built the Pilgrim of Newport tall ship now at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point – brought it there and began work to restore it. For more than four years, the boat’s restoration proceeded without much fanfare or media attention, and in compliance with all city codes and ordinances then in effect.

Then the city passed an ordinance in 2010, based on what it says were complaints by neighbors, that made Holland’s project illegal. The new ordinance required a city permit for a project like Holland’s, with a six-month grace period for projects already in existence. That meant Holland’s project could proceed unaffected until late 2010.

At that point the city demanded Holland apply for and receive a city issued permit. So Holland did. After being issued a six-month permit to continue the project, Holland’s restoration project continued on until early 2011.

Then the restoration project became a legal problem, both for Mr. Holland and the city.  The city refused to issue Holland another permit. The reason, both parties agree, was that Holland was unable not provide an actual completion date for the project. Shortly afterwards, the city sued Holland for violation of its ordinance and deemed Holland’s boat project a “public nuisance.”

That didn’t sit well with Holland.

After a few rounds in court, the two sides reached the settlement agreement that required the boat’s removal from the side yard and for any further work to comply with the city’s ordinance, which requires a permit for any project larger than 35 feet. The Shawnee is 72 feet.

Holland says he got “about 75 percent” of the disassembly completed before he was forced to stop work because of chemotherapy treatments for prostate cancer. He was also hospitalized for a nearly a week at Hoag Memorial Hospital.

He sent the city a letter in late July explaining the situation to Newport’s City Attorney. The letter detailed his medical condition and the reason for the delay in completing the taking apart of the ship.  Holland’s doctor also provided a letter to the city with even more detail.

Harp reportedly told another newspaper “he didn’t know if the city had received a letter from Mr. Holland or not.” But when questioned  about the letter by the Independent, he acknowledged having received it.

Asked if he responded to the letter, Harp said, “My recollection is that Mr. Holland really didn’t ask any questions that needed a response.  He was just letting us know about his progress as of the date of the letter.”

The city did respond in another way: it sent an inspector to Holland’s house on Sept. 4 to take pictures of the status of the Shawnee’s disassembly, and filed a motion seeking a “receiver” be appointed by the court to oversee the settlement agreement.

“At this time, it does not appear Mr. Holland is in a position to manage the process and come into compliance with the Court order that he agreed to,” Harp said this week. “Hence, we are asking the Court to appoint a receiver to manage this project for Mr. Holland and ensure that he comes into compliance with the court order.”

Holland’s lawyer, Richard Higbie of Balboa Island, told the Independent that the city’s lawyers have agreed to meet with him to see if the parties can agree on a new schedule for the boat to be disassembled at the property as agreed.  He also said he hopes the city and Holland can put this legal fight to rest, at least for now.

Meanwhile, Holland returned to working on the disassembly of the boat this week, and says he’ll have nearly all the boat taken apart by the next court hearing, as long as his health holds up.

On Monday he said he worked on the project for nearly six hours. The Independent paid him a visit and found him high above the ground cutting pieces from the ship. He says that although he can use help on occasion – which his son, Dennis Jr., and others provide – the job is not a simple one and requires the expertise of a master shipwright to ensure the Shawnee is not destroyed.

Asked if the proposed receiver has any expertise in ship building or restoration, Harp responded, “The receiver we are proposing has been a receiver in a variety of context.  The receiver will, in essence, be a manager and bring the expertise needed.”

Holland says the‘ Shawnee’ project is the best therapy he can get right now to rebuild his health as he continues to fight to stay one step ahead of his cancer.

“I can only do my best,” Holland said, “and that is what I will keep doing.”











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