Canyons Home Development Gets Go-Ahead from Appeals Court

A controversial housing development in the rural canyons of east Orange County might be built after all, following an appeals court ruling that reversed a lower court’s rejection of the project.

In their ruling last week, a panel of judges from the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal said county supervisors followed proper protocol in approving the 65-home Saddle Crest project.

“We find no prejudicial abuse of discretion on the part of the Board [of Supervisors]. Its actions and findings were supported by substantial evidence, were not arbitrary or capricious, and were consistent with the General Plan,” wrote the panel, comprised of justices Richard D. Fybel, Richard M. Aronson and Raymond J. Ikola.

The ruling overturns a Superior Court ruling against the project, which said that environmental laws and the area’s land use plan were violated.

The activists who filed the lawsuit can appeal to the state Supreme Court, though it’s unclear if they’ll be doing so.

Gloria Sefton, co-founder of the Saddleback Canyons Conservancy, said Monday that a decision on appealing hadn’t yet been made.

The developer, Rutter Santiago LP, didn’t return a message seeking comment.

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 by preserving oak trees and natural open space and limiting grading and lot sizes.

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

County supervisors opted not to join the appeal, instead leaving it to the developer.

The supervisors’ decision came after 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 and ultimately opposed the project.

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 contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.