Remembering a 'Visionary'

Remembering a 'Visionary'

Developer John Ringle worked for 5-acre zoning to preserve the Occoquan Watershed.

John Ringle, a Fairfax Station developer called the "Father of the Occoquan" by many, died on Friday, Dec. 2, after a long illness.

In the 1970s, Ringle, who had worked as a surveyor with the U.S. Army and for several corporations after leaving the service, began his own development company that created 11 communities in Fairfax Station, said long-time friend Bill Cole of the Occoquan Watershed Coalition. At that time, the land was zoned to allow one house per every acre of land.

"John was interested in protecting the land and the environment, and he wanted to build homes on enough land that would accommodate a horse or two," Cole said. "He elected to build his communities on 5-acre lots."

Calling his friend "a visionary," Cole said Ringle built the 11 communities, including English Hills, Summerwind, The Chase, Cathedral Forest and Beech Tree at the Park, with strict guidelines on the homes that were built there by the land owners.

"He wrote very protective covenants so that the lots couldn't be subdivided, which would actually help to protect the homeowners," Cole said.

After finishing his last community, Ringle and his wife, Maxine, decided to sell between 200 and 300 acres of land they owned to the Fairfax County Park Authority, which became part of Fountainhead Regional Park and "helped save all the land from Fountainhead to Bull Run," Cole said.

THE IMPACT of Ringle's vision can be witnessed today by comparing the north and south shores of the Occoquan, Cole said.

"The southern side is all developed just about to the shoreline, and there's a lot of erosion and damage," he said. "The northern part has little to no damage because it's all park land."

Other developers went on to use Ringle's method for development, even on smaller lots, in order to protect environmentally sensitive areas, Cole said.

In 1982, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors made the 5-acre zoning part of the county's Comprehensive Plan for 41,000 acres between Clifton and Fairfax Station, which was challenged in no less than 40 lawsuits, he said. It has never been defeated.

"Fairfax County had a 20th-anniversary celebration in 2002 in which the Board reaffirmed the decision and applauded John's foresight to protecting the watershed," Cole said. In 2004, the county recognized Ringle as the "Father of the Occoquan Watershed" with a proclamation signed by then-chairwoman Kate Hanley.

Recently, U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) spoke to Congress about Ringle's work for conservation and environmental protection, which was entered into the Congressional Record, Cole said. Last week, Cole and another friend presented Ringle with a plaque from Davis, which hung in his hospital room, along with the 2004 proclamation from the Board of Supervisors.

"John was a friend to everyone. I'm constantly running into people that knew him in all different contexts," Cole said of his friend.

Hanley remembered her brief meetings with Ringle fondly. "The citizens that live in the greater Clifton area are benefiting from his interest in the natural environment," she said.

Ringle was able to develop Fairfax Station and Clifton "in such a way that it would have a positive difference in the future of Fairfax County," said Al Akers, a former president of the Occoquan Watershed Coalition. "As such, he was a legend in his own time."

Calling the downzoning of the Occoquan Watershed a protective measure, Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-At-large) said the results of Ringle's actions can be seen and tasted in the water that comes from the river.

"The purest water we have in the county comes from the Occoquan," he said. "His bold vision contributed to the preservation of the Occoquan which provides water to 15 percent of the county."

The decision to downzone that area of the county "took courage," Connolly said, but "was a huge environmental success that we continue to celebrate today."

In a statement released by Ringle's family on Friday, shortly after his death, Michele (Ringle) Clay, John Ringle's daughter, said he was surrounded by his wife of 52 years, Maxine Ringle, and children, Michelle Clay and Chris Ringle, were with him when he died. He had been at Mount Vernon Hospital since late October with a staph infection that eventually moved into his heart.

A church service took place on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Woodbridge. Those wishing to make donations in John Ringle's name are asked to do so to the American Cancer Society for Leukemia or the Occoquan Boat Club, c/o Rick Evans, 11439 Moore Drive, Manassas, VA 20110.