In her mind, there was no contest. Most of the Borneham Wood subdivision near Dulles International Airport looked new and naked, with no big trees to shade a suburban landscape of children's toys, back-yard fences and asphalt driveways.

So when she moved there, she fell in love with the house that overlooked a leafy oak tree growing in a church yard across the street, a majestic and stately oak of great girth, estimated by neighbors to be several hundred years old.

A year and a half later, the future of the oak is in jeopardy. The tree is to be chopped down by July 1 to make way for a state-approved deceleration lane, and the woman is one of more than 400 neighbors and church members who have signed a protest petition.

"It's really sad, because Virginia is a beautiful place, and I'm afraid if some people don't get involved in saving some things, and some of the wildlife around here, it's all going to be gone, and it's going to be too late to do anything," said the woman, who declined to be identified.

The oak stands on property formerly owned by Great Oaks Farm, but now owned by the Chantilly Bible Church. The 175-member church is constructing a complex with offices, an auditorium, a parking lot and, eventually, a gymnasium.

Church officials say they believe the oak-shaded site, high on a hill, was chosen for them by God. The only problem is that the land with the tree runs along West Ox Road, narrow and winding and increasingly busy with suburban traffic.

Most agree that the road is dangerous and that something must be done to protect against traffic accidents in the vicinity of the church entrance, at 2739 West Ox Rd., near Frying Pan Park.

Marianne Pastor, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, believes it was the church's idea to chop down the tree to make way for a deceleration lane near the church complex entrance. She said the state merely approved a road plan that called for the slow-down lane. "If they wish to file an amended permit, we will certainly look at that," she said.

Church officials strenuously object, saying the state left them no option but to design a deceleration lane, one that would mean cutting down the oak. "We even tried to submit a plan with a shortened deceleration lane, and they said they wouldn't even consider it," said the Rev. Steven L. Austin, the church pastor.

Austin does not understand why the 60-foot-tall tree must go, and neither does the Rev. Ken Johns, the church's youth pastor. "It's amazing how big it is," he said. "You could build a house in it."

In addition to the petition signed by church members and neighbors, a letter was also sent to the county's Board of Supervisors, asking that the tree be preserved.

"We in the western part of the county must act soon, must draw the line at some point, if every object of beauty or history is not to be obliterated in the name of progress and convenience," said Bill Klieforth, the letter's author and a neighbor.

Last week the county's Board of Supervisors voted to ask the Transportation Department to consider lowering the speed limit of 45 mph, with hopes of making the road less dangerous, thus lessening the need for a long deceleration lane.

Said Vice Chairman Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville): "People kind of laugh at this, but I went out on a limb about 15 years ago and saved an oak tree in Oakton, at the intersection of Jermantown Road and Rte. 123. Every time I go by it, I look at this tree and say, 'Oh, you're so beautiful.' Now it's dying. But, nevertheless, people were able to enjoy it for 15 more years."

Fairfax County assistant arborist Galen Stees said he could not date the church tree and did not know whether it was the county's biggest. Neighbors said it does not matter whether the tree is a record setter; they just want it preserved.

The Borneham Wood resident whose house overlooks the tree said she is moving out of state and her house is on the market, one more reason to hope that the oak is preserved.

She also knows how much the tree means to the friends who she is leaving behind. "They destroyed all the trees when they made this development, and this is kind of like the community tree," she said.

The woman added that one of her favorite activities since moving to Borneham Wood has been to sit on her back deck, binoculars in hand, and watch the tree. "It supports a lot of wildlife -- tons of different types of birds and things," she said. So far, she said, she has counted more than 25 varieties of birds.

Judy Hasson also lives in Borneham Wood, but her view of the oak isn't as good. She can see only the top of it over the roofs of houses. "But you can see it every time you go out of the development -- it's just so magnificent," she said.

"Just the fact that they want to tear it down makes me crazy."