The developer behind the controversial Saddle Crest housing project in rural eastern Orange County has decided to appeal a Superior Court ruling that the project’s approval failed to comply with state environmental laws and local land use plans.

In challenging Judge Steven Perk’s ruling, Rutter Santiago LP, part of Rutter Development Corp., is going it alone after the Orange County Board of Supervisors declined to continue fighting for the project.

Rutter filed its appeal Thursday, according to court records.

Under the Saddle Crest project, Rutter was set to build 65 homes in rural Trabuco Canyon just northwest of Cook’s Corner.

To approve the plan, county supervisors had to change the Foothill-Trabuco Specific Plan, which was designed to protect the area’s rural character through preserving oak trees and natural open space and limiting grading and lot sizes.

Activists sued Rutter and the county and ultimately won a ruling from Judge Perk that the county’s approval failed to comply with state environmental and land use laws and with the Foothill-Trabuco plan.

In the hopes of persuading county supervisors not to appeal, activists organized a steady campaign of opinion articles, petitions, public comments and conversations with Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who represents the county’s rural canyons area.

After studying the issue, Spitzer announced earlier this month that he disagreed with the way the county went about approving the housing project last year, before he joined the Board of Supervisors.

The lawsuit was filed by the Saddleback Canyons Conservancy, Rural Canyons Conservation Fund, Friends of Harbors Beaches and Parks, California Native Plant Society and the National Audubon Society.

You can reach Nick Gerda at, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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