Sutherland Shire Mayor Carmelo Pesce, Sharks CEO Dino Mezzatesta and businessman failed to get development approval to transform holiday home south of Sydney

Sutherland Shire Mayor Carmelo Pesce, Sharks CEO Dino Mezzatesta and businessman failed to get development approval to transform holiday home south of Sydney
  • PublishedMay 14, 2024

The mayor of the Sutherland Shire, the Cronulla Sharks CEO and a Sydney businessman transformed their three-bedroom holiday home into a sprawling eight-bedroom luxury rental without getting development approval.

Mayor Carmelo Pesce and Sharks CEO Dino Mezzatesta purchased a two-third share in the 20-acre property near Berry, south of Sydney, in 2014 through a company they are joint directors of called CD Ventures Pty Ltd.

A separate company, which shire businessman Robert Giardini and a family member are joint directors of, invested the remaining third.

Carmelo Pesce the Sutherland Shire Mayor smiling as he looks at the camera
The property owned by Sutherland Shire Mayor Carmelo Pesce and two other men, is advertised for holiday rentals.(Supplied: Sutherland Shire Council)

The men have known each other for a long time, dating back to the early 2000s when they purchased a racehorse together, and Mr Giardini donated to Cr Pesce’s election council campaign. 

Their property is currently advertised for holiday rentals, described as a “rural retreat” with a “modern farm-style kitchen” and “in-ground, saltwater pool” overlooking “cattle paddocks and beautiful distant hills”.

The listing says the country estate is rated exceptional with 9.6/10 and is a short eight-minute drive from “award-winning restaurants” at Berry, and a similar distance to the “famous Seven Mile Beach” at Gerroa, a popular destination for holiday-makers from Sydney and Canberra.

A house and smaller house, yellow arrows pointing out each, among green farmland and blue skies and mountains in the background
Main house and cottage at Whispering Pines.

Before the property was listed as a holiday rental, the garage was converted into three extra bedrooms, each with their own wardrobe.

A detached stables was also turned into two-bedroom guest cottage with a kitchen and bathroom.

Neither change had council approval before the work began.

Covered Whispering Pines outdoor entertainment area with wooden dining table in foreground, barbecue and pool in the background
The covered outdoor entertaining area boasts two sun lounges, dining table and barbecue.(Stayz)

The home was then advertised as an eight-bedroom family retreat, fetching up to $12,500 a week.

Compliance officers at Shoalhaven City Council discovered the unauthorised works in 2022 and immediately issued an order banning the use of the guest cottage.

The council has not issued any orders in relation to the garage conversion.

A bedroom at Whispering Pines with white walls and bed linen with door opening to garden with large tree
There are six bedrooms in the main house.(Stayz)

Cr Pesce is now fighting to have the cottage building works retrospectively approved, in order to avoid a possible demolition order.

Cr Pesce, Mr Mezzatesta and Mr Giardini declined repeated requests for comment.

Doubled in value

Whispering Pines lounge area with light colour lounge, white walls, TV and fireplace leading out to deck
The living/dining area is described as “spacious, open plan, light, airy, clean and fresh”.(Stayz)

Once the renovations were complete, the trio unsuccessfully tried to sell the eight-bedroom residence for $2.9 million in 2018, after paying $1.34 million for the property in 2014.

The 2018 listing showed off its “high-raked ceilings”, fireplace and “amazing deck to absorb fabulous sunsets”.

The floor plan revealed an additional five bedrooms compared to when the property was purchased in 2014.

a composite image of two lots of floor plans for a property in far meadow in the shoalhaven region in nsw
Floor plans for the property showing the differences between the 2013 layout and the 2018 one.(Supplied)

The changes piqued the interest of nearby residents.

Former chair of the neighbourhood association, Michael Bryant, said he advised Cr Pesce the building works were “unlawful” by email, but did not receive a response.

“This guy is the mayor of a council and should know better. He knows the procedures you have to go through,” Mr Bryant said.

Lodging a development application (DA) typically costs thousands of dollars, and a determination can take months to receive.

Whispering Pines pool area with light-coloured pavers, bathed in sunlight and with palm trees and paddock behind
The online advertisement says the property has lush green lawns surrounding an in-ground saltwater pool.(Stayz)

Cr Pesce is a long-serving Liberal councillor who was elected to Sutherland Shire Council in 2012, before serving as deputy mayor from 2014 and mayor from 2015.

Earlier this year he suffered a bruising preselection loss, after attempting to replace Scott Morrison in the federal seat of Cook.

Council steps in 

Cr Pesce submitted a DA in 2023 in an attempt to secure retrospective council approval for the guest cottage conversion.

Whispering Pines firepit with paved area and seating with views to lush green grass
The property has a firepit.(Stayz)

He provided council a “BCA Compliance audit report”, which found the building was structurally sound, suitably weatherproofed and fire safe.

The report inaccurately suggested the owners purchased the property in 2018, after the building works were completed.

The consultant who provided the BCA report, David Blackett, has previously served as the vice-chairman on the board of the Cronulla Sharks.

Dino Mezzatesta CEO of NRL club Cronulla Sharks wears glasses as he looks at camera, black background
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks CEO Dino Mezzatesta is part owner of the property.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Mr Blackett said it was not a conflict of interest to inspect a property partly owned by Mr Mezzatesta.

“I haven’t certified anything. I made observations as a consultant,” he said.

“If I was certifying there would have been a conflict of interest, but it was an observation.

“Council is the consent authority.”

Mr Blackett, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, said he was not told who had converted the property, and it was not relevant to the report.

A spokesperson for Shoalhaven City Council said it was “aware of structures on the property that have been constructed without consent and are currently undertaking compliance action as appropriate”.

Sutherland Shire Mayor Carmelo Pesce takes a selfie with cows at the property
Sutherland Shire Mayor Carmelo Pesce shared a photo of him taking a selfie with cows on Facebook.(Facebook: Whispering Pines Berry )

History of compliance complaints

Cr Pesce has previously faced complaints over non-complaint work at other properties he owns within his own council area.

According to public records, companies he controls or in which he is a joint director, hold 14 properties in NSW, including shops where he operates his Bianchini cafes and restaurants.

the outside view of a high rise apartment in cronulla with a cafe and restaurant called bianchini on street level
Bianchini’s Restaurant in Surf Lane, Cronulla is owned by Sutherland Shire Mayor Carmelo Pesce.(Supplied)

Recently, residents living above his latest Bianchini venture in South Cronulla told Sutherland Shire council Cr Pesce’s kitchen exhaust flue made a common area hallway excessively hot.

They believed the building works breached his DA conditions, something Cr Pesce denied.

Council declined to investigate, as the works had been approved by a certifier, Paul Gearin.

Mr Gearin, who had previously been subject to disciplinary action by NSW Fair Trading, was recently disqualified for six years, but that decision has been stayed by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal pending a review.

Residents then petitioned NSW Fire and Rescue, who inspected the building and agreed the kitchen exhaust from Bianchini restaurant was non-compliant as it “passes through a fire wall thereby compromising the wall’s integrity” and it “should have been enclosed in fire-rated ducts”.

Cr Pesce has previously told the ABC he was “aware of conflicting advice over the need to have the flue installed by the developer fire rated,” and the developer, Iridium, agreed to resolve the issue.

‘Inappropriate language’

Cr Pesce has also been handed breach notices by his own council compliance staff.

In 2020 he was investigated over claims he berated two staff members who had issued defect notices on his cafes, understood to relate to a missing splashback.

Council appointed a conduct reviewer, who agreed there was, on balance, sufficient evidence that Mr Pesce used inappropriate language towards council employees.

It prompted Sutherland Shire Council to initiate an unusual arrangement with Georges River Council, where the neighbouring councils would swap compliance staff when they needed to inspect venues belonging to councillors.


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