The Lands Department is monitoring a development in a pristine enclave of a Sai Kung country park, following complaints from local residents who say it is unauthorised.
But the Christian non-profit group that runs the 30-year-old Tolo Adventure Centre water sports facility at the centre of the row in western Hoi Ha says it is being unjustly victimised.
Building work on what residents say is a two-storey structure in the area was spotted last November, Nicola Newbery, a long-time Hoi Ha resident and chairwoman of the Friends of Hoi Ha concern group, said.
She suspected the work involved unlawful demolition, rebuilding and expansion - a violation of planning regulations in the 8.4 hectare enclave - and she reported it to authorities.
"It's another example of a 'trash first, develop later' type of scenario," Newbery said.
The adjacent Hoi Ha Wan is categorised as a site of special scientific interest.
Newbery said work involved felling trees and shrubs around the area, and she accused the operators of not obtaining planning permission.
The outline zoning plan for Hoi Ha, finalised last year, divided the enclave into areas for village development, conservation, green belt and other uses.
The adventure centre was allotted the use of 0.03 hectares inside an area entirely designated for conservation. The zoning plan limits building heights to one storey.
The centre's vice-chairman, Kung Chi-fu, defended the development, saying they were only restoring the original structure, which was falling apart.
"The dimensions of the building are exactly the same as before and we have no intention of breaking any laws," he said. "The building will be only one-storey high when completed, but because of the cockloft, it may look like it is two-storeys high."
The centre is a non-profit youth centre that provides water-sports training, equipment and facilities to about 1,300 disenfranchised youths every year.
"I think it's unfair and groundless that they are targeting us," Kung said. "We're not trying to turn into a tourist hotspot; we are just trying to help society."
The Planning Department said no redevelopment of an existing building should result in a structure in excess of that stipulated in the draft Development Permission Area plan.
But the department added: "It is not expected that the continued use of the site as a water sports recreation centre … would have any significant adverse impact on the surrounding area."
The Sai Kung Districts Lands Office revealed work on the adventure centre's main building had been carried out in line with its footprint but without permission from the office between late last year and this month. At least two unauthorised structures were in place, prompting a warning from authorities to cease work and remove the structures.
"The Tolo Adventure Centre has agreed to demolish the unauthorised structures and submitted an application for approval for resuming the suspended building works of the main building," a spokeswoman for the district's Lands Office said.
The office said it would consider the request and continue to monitor the demolition work.