Consider the plight of Chevy Chase Village, an early, upper-crust suburb of sylvan streets and large houses wedged mostly between booming high-rise Friendship Heights and traffic-choked Connecticut Avenue at the edge of the District.
It is the trees -- tall and stately elms, beeches and oaks -- that line the streets and dot the yards which help make life more than bearable in this gilded ghetto of $600,000-and-up houses. The trees reduce the air pollution, lower the temperature and buffer the village from the sights and sounds of the surrounding metropolis.
In an effort to protect and preserve this urban forest, the Village Board of Managers imposed a moratorium last month, effective until May 1, on the "removal or destruction" of any trees -- even those on private property.
And now the seven-member board is considering a new ordinance, patterned after one adopted almost five years ago in Takoma Park, that would prevent property owners forever from chopping down or trimming any private trees two feet or more in diameter without the approval of a three-member Tree Commission yet to be formed.
"We are very proud of our trees out here," said Ephraim Jacobs, the pipe-smoking, deep-voiced chairman of the village board.
But the proposed ordinance has triggered a tempest in a treetop in this Montgomery County community over property rights versus the general good in a village whose public discourse is often legalistic, to say the least. There are probably more rules and more lawyers per square mile (including three on the village board) than almost anywhere else in Maryland, residents say.
Residents must obtain village permits to build whirlpool baths, spas, pools, fences, satellite dishes or back-yard decks. Political or real estate signs also require permits. Peddlers must have permits and cannot solicit after sunset or on Sundays. Barricades keep out commuters and "roll jumps" slow them down.
Residents must have village permits to install home alarms. No lawn mowers, chain saws or other power equipment can be used between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday. A slim blue booklet of village rules in effect in 1977 has burgeoned into a bulging looseleaf book of more than 100 pages.
The village of 2,114 residents in 715 homes already keeps close track of its 1,607 trees on public rights of way. All of them are officially tagged, pruned by contract and monitored closely by the village government, whose computer disks contain a profile of each tree.
This year, the village is spending more than $40,000 on its trees.
Each spring, the village plants more trees in front of residents' homes. There are five approved species, no more, no less.
A key figure in all such regulatory discussions is Roy Burke, the tough-talking village manager and police chief who wears a handcuffs tiepin.
Burke insists that he only carries out the bidding of the elected officials, but residents say he is sometimes zealous to a fault in enforcing the rules.
"He's a little arbitrary to say the least," said John Middleton, yet another lawyer who has no tree-chopping plans but is troubled by still another ordinance. "Eight or 10 people have had literal screaming matches with him in their front yards over God-knows-what. You kind of cringe and wait until he comes roaring up. Actually, he's trying to do the best job he can."
Burke drew up the proposed ordinance at the officials' behest and, while he professes to have no position on the matter, is an unabashed tree lover. "It would just be a tragedy to see concrete instead of trees," he said.
Under the latest proposed ordinance, which would replace the moratorium, only a bona fide contractor could chop down a tree. The new Tree Commission would have to authorize the removal of trees but "shall not . . . unless it finds that such removal will not adversely affect the public health, safety and welfare."
Residents on both sides are having a field day with the tree ordinance. Lawyer Robert Strahota penned an eight-page letter plus a page of footnotes expressing his opposition.
"This is an unconstitutional act," asserted Strahota, who said he wants to chop down a tree in his yard.
"I wouldn't turn in one of my neighbors if he wanted to cut his tree down," said E. Brooke Lee, brother of the late Maryland governor Blair Lee III and a real estate developer and laissez-faire resident of the village.
Like everything else in the village, the tree debate is for the most part genteel. Reportedly impassioned statements at a recent village meeting were followed by generally more reflective, low-key comments.
Even Corbin Harwood, a former environmental lawyer and one of the most vocal proponents of the tree-cutting ban, was careful not to offend.
"I do have strong feelings about it," said Harwood, who attended a conference on urban forests last week. "I'm just afraid if we discuss it too much at this point, a lot of people might be polarized."
Then, carefully choosing her words, she said, the ordinance is "an effort to preserve the hallmark of our community that distinguishes ours from other urban areas."
Despite vandalism last summer that saw a public tree fall to an unknown saw-wielding culprit -- as well as Dutch Elm disease spreading across Western Avenue from the District -- the village-owned trees seem secure.
It's the trees on private property that have pushed the preservationists out on a political limb. Although no chain-saw massacre has prompted the current flap, Harwood noted that four trees have fallen in the last two years.
The moratorium and proposed ordinance are "to prevent a chain-saw massacre," said Patricia Baptiste, a village board member. "A number of citizens have informally complained to us about the wholesale removal of trees from back yards, usually for a swimming pool or landscaping."
The village board plans to take its time deciding the issue, she said.
"I don't know if it's a good idea to regulate this or not, in a world that's over-regulated," Baptiste said. "It's all a balancing act."