The people who are bringing to Northern Virginia a 1,400-acre planned community called Burke Centre are fond of an old real estate saying that goes like this:

"The three most important things in real estate are location, location and location."

Burke Centre, where actual land development began in 1976, has used as selling features for itself the existing business, shopping centers, schools and churches in the neighboring communities of Fairfax to the north and Springfield to the east.

In the meantime, developers have been able to assure potential home buyers that their suburban privacy would be kept intact to the west and south where Burke Centre is bordered by the Occoquan watershed and Burke Lake Park, respectively, two areas where little or no development is expected.

"Because so many facilities already existed nearby, we could concentrate on developing a pleasant living environment," says Otis Coston, general manager for the Burke Centre Partnership, developers of Burke Centre. "We didn't have to develop a 'new town.'"

With location as its major selling point, Burke Centre developers are "very satisfied with the pace (of development and sales)," according to Coston. "The project has exceeded our expectations at every step."

Since the first of the year, Burke Centre has averaged 25 to 28 sales a week of units priced from the high-50s to $150,000. Coston says there are "relatively few" lots for single-family houses left to sell to builders. In all, approximately 1,700 lots have been sold and either are being developed or are close to being developed, and a total of 1,200 families have moved in.

Landing clearing has begun for the 85,000-square-foot Village Centre, which will contain a supermarket, drug store and several small retail shops.

Construction will begin next year on the Town Center which will provide 225,000 square feet of retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space and 75,000 square feet of commercial and recreation space.

Burke Centre has approximately one-quarter of the 5,000 dwelling units and 17,000 residents that it is scheduled to have upon completion in 1984.

The Burke Center Partnership consists of John T. Hazel, Milton Peterson and International Developers Inc. They approached the development of Burke Centre "acutely aware of the financial problems and numerous failures in large planned communities," Coston said.

The Burke Partnership felt the major problem other developments faced was that, in order to get a piece of land large enough to build a planned community, developers had to go to rural locations well removed from the District, making them less attractive to prospective buyers, according to Coston.

The Burke Partnership, however, purchased its land from three landholders who were willing to sell together if a Planned Residential Community zoning was provided. That gave the Burke Partnership what it considers the great advantage of location.

With the attraction of location, the developers of Burke could concentrate on esthetics.

"They (the developers) felt a planned community with a rigorous structure was not what people wanted," Coston said. "People wanted a pleasant living environment, so we broke the land into 'neighborhoods' with their own physical characteristics to allow people to identify with their areas.

"A person coming home from work has a pleasant drive into Burke Centre and then into his own small evironment. This allows for social interaction."

Four of the five "neighborhoods" Burke Centre is broken into are under construction, with only Neighborhood I complete. Each neighborhood will have its own community center, swimming pool and tennis courts. Currently, dues of $240 per year cover use of most community facilities and common-ground upkeep.

Two community centers have been constructed at an estimated $750,000 apiece and they, along with the design of the individual neighborhoods, provide an idea of what project manager William Reiser calls the "close-knit, down-home idea" upon which Burke Centre is being developed.

The Visitors Center is also the community center for Neighborhood I, known as "The Ponds." It looks like an old general store, complete with a century-old wooden barn that was dismantled from a farm in Leesburg and brought piece by piece to Burke Centre where it was reconstructed.

Inside, the Visitors Center presently serves a dual role-it houses information about Burke Centre and provides meeting rooms for residents. It is decorated with antiques. The nearby tennis courts and swimming pool are accented by attractive stonework.

The Oaks Community Center, located in Neighborhood II, is constructed of stone and logs. Inside, there's a homey looking stone fire-place, several meeting rooms, a small kitchen and the pool-bathhouse.

Neighborhood I, the first neighborhood developed, has four small ponds stocked with fish that are easily accessible to nearby residents. According to Reiser, the ponds existed when the land was developed, but the Burke Centre Partnership "enlarged and deepened them." They also serve a practical function-detaining storm water.

Picnic and play areas are spread throughout the neighborhoods, and Neighborhood I has a small wooden amphitheater used for concerts and other community activities on Meadow Pond.

The style of homes in the different neighborhoods varies because Burke Centre has sold parcels of land to 25 builders.

"We went out and tried to encourage the best builders in the metropolitan area to build here," Coston said. "We don't make any large commitment to any one builder (and) we make no commitment way in advance. This way, if problems develop, we're not too far into things."

The developers maintain architectural control, making the builders submit plans relating to the type, design, colors and sites of houses. This way "we know what he'll do before he comes to build," Coston said.

Builders such as Costain, Hart, Ryan, Ryland, Washington Homes, Globe, U.S. Homes, Polte and others basically kept their designs traditional, but with enough variation to break the "little boxes" look of some subdivisions.

In addition to single-family houses, which start with a $63,990 Ryland model and top out at a Hart home in the $140,000 bracket, a number of attached homes are being constructed.

Town houses are being built at an average of six to eight units per acre as opposed to the "typical 10 (units per acre)," according to Coston. Duplexes and quadraplexes (back-to-back duplexes) priced in the mid-50s to upper-50s reportedly are selling well.

Undoubtedly, one of the keys to Burke Centre's success so far, besides location, has been that it is being developed from the outside into the center. The periphery consists of impressive detached homes while the denser housing is scheduled to be built in the center of the development.

"Apartment ground is limited to near the core of where the Town Center will be," Coston said. "They may be rentals or they may be sold."

The 1978 development plan shows 742 units in Neighborhood V consisting of garden and elevator apartments and another 408 garden apartments.

Burke Centre also is committed to providing 208 low-priced to moderate-priced units. Oxford Development Corp. is building 50 eight-plex town houses that will rent for 25 percent of a family's income. A family must be earning less than $17,000 a year to qualify, according to Coston.

Fifty more eight-plexes and 108 other moderate-priced units are planned, Coston said, adding that he hopes communmity involvement will eliminate "the fears that people have that people in those areas (low-income and moderate-income) are different."

For that, Coston is counting on what he calls the "catalyst of the community" - the homeowners association known as the Burke Centre Conservancy.

"The Conservancy helps create activities people enjoy," Coston said.

The Conservancy has more than 70 elected members. In addition to maintaining bike trials, tot lots, open space and multi-purpose courts, it provides a 10-page to 12-page monthly newsletter which is delivered to each resident.

"Yes, the developers are open and they encourage people to get involved with the community," said Gay Nutall, editor of the "Conservator" newsletter.

Judging from the amount of participation and interest in the newsletter and other activities in Burke Centre, Nuttall said she would call the community "very involved. We have a lot of community input."

"All this (community involvement) comes back around to help sell homes," Coston said. "Our research shows that 50 percent of our homes are sold by a referral from people living in the community.

"There's no better sales promotion than that." CAPTION: Picture 1, A cluster of single-family houses in the Ponds section of Burke Centre with a pond in the foreground.; Picture 2, The Burke Visitors Centre, filled with various items of interest, was the scene of weekend festivities. Photos by Kenneth Stancil for The Washington Post; Picture 3, This cluster of two-garage houses is located on Windward Drive in the Ponds section of Burke Centre. By Kenneth Stancil for The Washington Post