- The couple are born again Christians.
- Four of their children are blind and were adopted from the streets
of Korea, China and India, and their mom doesn’t want them "having
black eyes running into trees all day long. These kids have enough
obstacles in their lives."
- The couple say they plan to build a swimming pool and put a swing
set, trampoline and a barbeque in the backyard, which would leave precious little
room for the trees.
- One of their kids was literally left on their doorstep by his adoptive parents after they decided they couldn’t handle a blind child. Two of the
adopted children, including one left abandoned and malnourished on the
streets of Calcutta, are also severely mentally retarded.
- County regulations require developers to preserve trees on 20 percent
of the property, but normally the subsequent purchasers of the properties can do
anything they want with the trees. In this case, because the
developers had violated the regs so egregiously, the county decided to prohibit buyers from removing the trees in perpetuity. In
settlement negotiations, the county agreed to drop the prohibition on
removing the trees and reduce the number of trees from 80 to 20,
but now the Bartlings are also demanding a quarter-mil in compensation for their
troubles, calling the whole situation an Extreme Screwover.
"Since when are trees more important than people?" they ask.
Whew! This story made my sympathies bounce back and forth so many times I felt like a spectator at Wimbledon. You couldn’t ask for a more heart-tugging family to challenge the knee-jerk assumptions of a treehugger like myself. And my usual suspicions about religious
true believers melted in the face of this couple, Mother Theresa-type Chrisitians despite their wealth. On the other hand, their safety concerns seem pretty bogus when you see what they’re choosing instead of trees – trampoline, swimming pool, a swing set – though bogus fear-mongering is fair game in warfare, be it in the legal realm or in the press.
And let’s back up and reexamine the law here. What’s the point of
a law that requires developers to plant trees if the
homeowners can dig them all up the day after closing?? For the tree laws to have any effect doesn’t it need to apply to all owners? But that runs up against this widespread attitude expressed by Karen Bartling: "Can you imagine paying
that much money for a house and having someone telling you what you
should do on your property?" Well, YES, as a matter of fact I can because I’ve
lived for 21 years with one of the most stringent tree-protection laws
in the U.S. And friends who live anywhere but here are just as shocked
and indignant about it as Karen.
But what’s the alternative to the relentless destruction of our woodlands by encroaching development? It may be that the greater
good might require more restrictions on our personal use of land, given the
problem that keeps on giving – overpopulation. Fairfax County’s forester says
he’d hope people would choose to keep their trees but "I’ve been
surprised by people who buy a lot and proceed to cut down every tree on
it for one reason or another. They don’t see the benefits."
One part of this moral puzzle is easy for me and probably for you –
the developers here screwed up big-time, so make ’em pay. But do the trees have to lose,
And should public policy be written in reaction to uniquely wrenching family situations? (Who can forget the political fiasco over poor Terry Schiavo?)
So Readers, especially the land-use planner wannabees among you, weigh in.
[Photo: My favorite plant, as seen from my garden chairs. I could have included an illustrative photo of orphans but that just seemed too icky and exploitative.]