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Treeless Towns Leave Residents Exposed

Developers, on the other hand, say the problem is too much government. Jim Williams, of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, said regulations require builders to clear large tracts for roads, gas lines and power cables.

"By the time you get finished, there ain't a hell of a lot of trees standing," Williams said. In many instances, he said, the builder's only option is to "rip 'em out, and put the new guys [new trees] back in."

The result, in the worst cases, is a neighborhood where tall trees are largely absent. This, environmentalists say, is detrimental in several ways. Losing a big tree means losing a valuable sponge for storm water, a root system that prevents erosion, and a filter that removes carbon dioxide and the precursors of smog.

"You get dirty water, and polluted everything," said Gary Moll of the conservation group American Forests. In a 2002 study, his group found that the Washington region's trees contained enough carbon to offset the annual emissions from more than 2,900 cars.

A denuded neighborhood also doesn't do much for resale values: Loudoun County real estate agents say they've seen buyers turned off by neighborhoods without large trees. They feel sterile, the agents say, too cookie-cutter.

And even for those people who do buy in, life is different. It's less private, for one thing, without branches to block one's view.

"I remember thinking, 'Oh, look, my neighbor's got new curtains in their bathroom,' " Veno said. That thought led to a troubling realization: "If I can see them, they can see me."

Virginia McGuire lives in Leesburg's Kincaid Forest neighborhood -- a semi-nude suburb, now, where the trees have grown a little. But the place still feels somewhat treeless to her, and she has found herself placing inordinate value on individual trees.

"I keep getting upset with my kids when they try to climb a tree," said McGuire, who is also chair of Leesburg's Environmental Advisory Commission. She's worried about the trees being hurt. "You can't spare any."

Last week in Richmond, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) signed a bill intended to prevent future stripped-bare suburbs. The bill, sponsored by Del. David L. Bulova (D-Fairfax), will require Northern Virginia developers to preserve some percentage of their parcels' original trees.

If saving old trees proves impossible, the developers would replant trees or pay to preserve them elsewhere.

The bill takes effect July 1, but local jurisdictions can choose whether to follow it.

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