The group is headed by Richard Kovacs, founder of investment firm Ottomin Group, who purchased a property at Palm Beach for $7 million in 2016. The Herald reported last week that Mr Kovacs had secured approval for his plans to renovate a historic Millers Point terrace after a fight in the Land and Environment Court.
Mr Kovacs declined to answer specific questions about his opposition to the off-leash area. He said in a statement the Protection Group was concerned about protecting the “sensitive environment” of the beach, in particular a seagrass meadow he said was home to juvenile fish species.
“We remain committed to protecting Station Beach for generations to come,” he said. “We are also concerned to ensure the safety for all beachgoers.”
Northern Beaches councillor Rory Amon said the council was satisfied that the beach was suitable for an off-leash dog trial.
“I have received all of two emails opposing it,” he said. “Those opposed seem very organised and very well-funded, although I do not consider that they represent the majority of our community.”
Councillors agreed to Cr Amon’s notice of motion that a development application for a 12-month off-leash dog trial should be prepared, at a cost of $10,000, in case the court decided it was required.
“The court proceedings, whether successful or unsuccessful, are no doubt stymieing the will of the community,” Cr Amon said. “Council is being dragged into these proceedings and has no option but to defend them, in order to implement the will of the community and the elected council.”
Mitch Geddes, a spokesman for the community-based Pittwater Unleashed, said the off-leash area proposed for the beach was adjacent to Palm Beach Golf Club, with the closest residents more than 100 metres away.
“The group backed by Mr Kovacs also displays hypocrisy, taking their own dogs to run and swim at Station Beach while objecting to the notion of others doing the same thing,” Mr Geddes said.
The stoush has attracted the attention of the police, who in April were called to investigate a video camera on Mr Kovacs’ property that was pointed at the beach, which Mr Geddes said was “something that struck us as highly dodgy”.
A NSW Police spokesman said the CCTV camera found at the property complied with regulations and no further action was taken.
Mr Geddes said there were only three off-leash areas north of Mona Vale, including one infested with funnel web spiders and one at Careel Bay, which had “a serious tick problem and is often a dust bowl in the dry, or a bog hole after rain”.
Mr Geddes said the legal proceedings were a waste of time given the council had voted to obtain a DA to permit dogs if the court insisted. “The court action is a clear case of the NIMBY attempting to bully Council into favouring private interest over public,” he said.
Northern Beaches Council chief executive Ray Brownlee said the overwhelming majority of people surveyed supported the proposal for an off-leash dog area at the beach.
“The environmental assessment found the trial is unlikely to have any significant or long-term negative environmental impacts on the area,” he said.
Andrew Taylor is a Senior Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.