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May|June 2003
Lowball By David Newman
Political Capital By Brian Montopoli
Justice, Interrupted By Siddhartha Deb
Access Malibu By Benjamin Nugent
A Tree Grows in the Hamptons By Kim Lemon

A Tree Grows in the Hamptons

By Kim Lemon

Around my town on the eastern end of Long Island, almost everyone has a story that starts with a simple plan for a fence or a garage and ends in rejection. My own tale began when I decided to do something about the four locust trees that were growing at disorderly angles in my backyard, blotting out both the sun and my chances of becoming a stop on the local garden tour.

I marked the offending trunks with orange tape and called my landscaper, Joseph. He did the job, but called me the following week with bad news. The village inspector had unexpectedly dropped by.

Touring the scene of the alleged crime later that week, the inspector brushed aside my claim that the removal of the locusts had been a mercy killing. He found me guilty on the spot, and his sentence was severe: "I'll give you 45 days to replace each of the trees." The law that snared me exists, in one form or another, in municipalities nationwide. I had violated a rule specifying the maximum portion of my lot (based on its size) that could be cleared without special permission from the village.

The cost of replacing the unwanted trees made me churn: $3,868.02, to be exact. In the wake of the inspector's visit, I began behaving in a manner inconsistent with my left-leaning voting record. When I happened upon G. Gordon Liddy fuming on CNN about laws protecting unwanted trees on his property, I nodded in agreement.

But my stint as a libertarian was a short one. Where I live, local zoning ordinances offer protection against neighbors who would otherwise depress property values by painting their houses garish shades of ecru. Given the unchecked expansion of the suburbs, zoning laws are also quickly becoming the last line of defense against pollution. The language used to justify my village's ordinance—"to preserve the sole source aquifer and existing vegetation" and "to ensure maximum recharge to the groundwater table"—suggests that the battle over the fate of the planet will unfold one well-mulched rosebush at a time.

For those concerned with the forest as well as the trees—and my calendar highlights Earth Day every year—this kind of law emphasizes that we can't have it both ways. So I've made my peace with my new trees—though I spent my flower budget for the rest of the decade buying them. Though I may wish the rules applied to everyone else and not to me, I'll sacrifice my sense of American independence to protect the value of my planet and my house. Considering the meltdown of my 401K, my house is about the only thing standing between me and cat food for dinner when I'm old.

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