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Lobdell: Boat adds character to neighborhood

February 07, 2011|By William Lobdell
  • Dennis Holland is restoring a 72-foot yacht at his home.
Dennis Holland is restoring a 72-foot yacht at his home. (Leah Thompson,…)

Editor's note: This corrects the spelling of Julie Karges' last name.

I once had a neighbor who made a living as a tree trimmer. And every so often, he would dig up an unwanted but valuable tree — usually some kind of palm — and plant it haphazardly in his front yard.

His property turned into a mismatched forest of odd trees, the new arrivals taking the place of the ones he sold whenever he was short on cash, which was often. The tree trimmer's property became very quirky and very un-Irvine, which was part of the reason I moved to Eastside Costa Mesa. I liked the character — and characters — of the neighborhood.

Live and let live with no homeowner associations in sight.

That's why I don't get the small but spirited backlash against Dennis Holland, who lives in my neck of the woods though on a ribbon of land that belongs to Newport Beach.

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He's the quixotic master shipwright who has been restoring a nearly century-old, 72-foot sailboat — named the Shawnee — in his yard for the past five years. The soft-spoken 65-year-old is the reason behind a 2009 city law that basically requires projects such as Holland's to be completed in six months — if they are granted a permit at all.

Last week — after years of wrangling — city officials issued Holland his first citation for taking too long to restore his boat. If he doesn't remove the Shawnee from his yard, he faces a series of escalating fines and eventual action by the City Attorney.

Holland vows that he won't move the boat. He says he had verbal approval from the city to restore the Shawnee on his property; the 2009 city law can't be retroactively applied to his case; and besides, the boat can't be moved in its current condition. A court battle may be looming.

"I think the law is on my side," he told me, before adding, "but this is my city. I would hate to sue myself."

When driving around town, I frequently find myself turning onto Holiday Road from Irvine Avenue for no other reason than to take a look at the Shawnee. It is quite something to see a massive sailboat, perched high on wooden braces, towering above an otherwise pretty, but unremarkable, neighborhood.

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