Shawnee Settlement Sinking

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The partially disassembled Shawnee in Dennis Holland's side yard. Photo by Eric Longabardi

Six weeks after the city of Newport Beach and local boat builder Dennis Holland agreed to settle their long-running dispute over the presence of his 72-foot wooden ship Shawnee on his property, the settlement may be unraveling in the face of alleged city backtracking and Holland’s entry into chemotherapy.

Holland said in April that city officials had agreed that he could disassemble the boat that is in his side yard and reassemble and restore it in his backyard, where it would not be visible from the street.

But, after initial reports of the settlement in late April, the city issued a press release that said, in part, “If Holland chooses to reassemble the Shawnee on his property at some time in the future, the City does not believe that he will be able to fully rebuild the Shawnee at that location without eventually being in violation of various provisions of the Newport Beach Municipal Code (maximum height requirements, setbacks, storage/ parking of watercraft in excess of 35-feet).”

According to the release and Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron Harp, the city’s position is clear: “To us this case was about gaining compliance with the law.”

On May 7, the city issued a second press release about the settlement, claiming that “recent news articles have incorrectly reported some of the details of the stipulated judgment”

A diagram of how Dennis Holland plans to reposition the Shawnee on his property. Holland says city officials viewed and OK'd it in April. Click on the drawing to see a larger version.

That press release says specifically that the city “has not agreed to allow Mr. Holland to rebuild the boat in the backyard of his property. In fact, the City informed Mr. Holland, prior to settling the lawsuit, that due to the sheer size of the boat, the City did not believe the boat could be restored on the property without violating the provisions of the Newport Beach Municipal Code (NBMC).”

In addition the press release states  “The City will be monitoring Mr. Holland’s work to ensure he does not violate any provision of the NBMC or any other law. … If, however, there is a future violation of law associated with the construction of the boat, the City can now seek judicial relief pursuant to the judgment.”

The Independent spoke with Holland this week to get his views of what the city has said publicly after the settlement was reached last April. Holland told the paper that he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the city’s interpretation.

Holland told the paper that shortly after the agreement was reached the city sent two code enforcement officers and a city lawyer to his front door. Holland says the city lawyer told him that they had received a complaint that he was “putting up some new construction in his backyard.”

Holland says he showed the three city representatives a piece of wood in his backyard that he had set up temporarily to show his attorneys the height that the ship would be, compared to the home’s roof line.

According to Holland, the city officials told him to remove the post, since it required a permit and he didn’t have one.  Holland says he took it down shortly thereafter.

He also says he recently spotted city workers taking pictures of the Shawnee and his house from across the street.

“It’s just harassment,” said Holland.

After the April settlement was reached, Holland began the process of safely disassembling the ship piece-by-piece and preparing the ship to for its move into his backyard.

About a week after that began, Holland, who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, learned his medical condition had taken a turn for the worse: his doctors told him that he would have to stop working on the ship and begin chemotherapy treatments.

Those treatments, he says, “just wipe me out and make near impossible to do any work on the ship.”  Holland said his medical condition may affect his ability to meet the four-month deadline set by the settlement for the ship to be disassembled and moved into his backyard.

Holland says before his cancer condition deteriorated he had already removed half of the wooden cover over the ship and had begun removing the hull above the deck.

When asked what he thought would happen next based on his current medical condition and the city’s various statements on the settlement since it was reached, Holland said, “I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and keep taking it one day at time.” “I probably should have asked for a little more time than four months,” he added.

The city’s May statement said, “Mr. Holland will have until September 1, 2012 to disassemble the boat. To ensure Mr. Holland’s compliance with this deadline, the court set a compliance hearing for September 12, 2012.”

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