Newington Forest is a "sleeper" among area residential communities.

New houses in the southern Fairfax County development are being sold at the rate of 38 a month, ahead of the projected schedule. Prices of most of the detached houses and town houses are below the average for the metropolitan area. The 734-acre development is 19 miles from downtown Washington.

Newington Forest is a major new community, but it's not a complete new town with industrial and commercial development potential, such as Reston, Columbia, Montgomery Village, St. Charles or Burke Centre. More than half of the site will remain undeveloped, while the rest of the property is to contain 1,900 units, including 200 apartments.

The southern Fairfax development is named in part for a station of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac railroad. The development is southwest of the Newington interchange of Interstate Rte. I-95 below Springfield. In recent years a light industrial area called Newington has been developing near the interchange.

Newington Forest is the product of a partnership between this area's largest-volume homebuilder and an investor-developer whose name has been identified with new residential housing in this area for more than 25 years.

The builder partner is Ryan Homes Inc., a broad-ranging, Pittsburgh-based firm that plans to complete 1,700 houses here this year at more than two dozen locations. Ryan, which is building and selling most of the new homes in Newington, entered homebuilding modest scale in this area only 10 years ago but sold 900 houses in 1976, 1,100 in 1977 and 1,300 in 1978.

The other partner is Stephen G. Yeonas, former president of the Yeonas Co., which built thousands of new houses. Yeonas now heads his own Arlington investment firm. (The Yeonas Co., with which none of the four Yeonas brothers now are affiliated, is still operating actively as a subsidiary of the Olin Corp., which bought the Yeonas Co. 10 years ago.)

At first (even second) glance, it would seem unlikely that Ryan and Steve Yeonas would get together as developers. Ever since coming to this area, the Ryan firm had been buying relatively small packages of finished lots, mostly from other builders and developers. The locations were generally remote and the company's prices moderate.

Yeonas, on the other hand, is an experienced, home-grown builder-developer. He had turned to land development (and was an original partner in Burke Centre), redevelopment (condominium conversion of existing town houses and apartments in Sterling Park and Annapolis) and other investments after selling out his original Yeonas Co. interest to Olin.

"I knew about this piece of ground (614 acres owned by the Edwin Lynch family) and recognized that its topography and location would be ideal for residential development," said Yeonas, whose ability to generate enthusiasm would be useful at half-time in the Redskin locker-room.

Yeonas said he acquired a total of 734 acres from Lynch and the Cranford estate for an average of about $3,000 an acre. The Newington site is raw, wooded land through which the south branch of the Pohick Creek zig-zags.

"I had to obtain zoning, sewer and water and good planning -- and then a good builder," Yeonas said. "I talked to several here, but few were interested in large-volume development in 1976, when the market was just recovering from the worst housing crunch since the 1930s. Someone mentioned Ryan, and I talked to their local people and arranged to meet the top executives in Pittsburgh."

"We knew Yeonas and our executives were obviously impressed by his glowing presentation," said Arthur Titus, the top Ryan marketing executive for this area. "Eventually, the decision was made to embark on a partnership."

As a result of talks and negotiations, Yeonas and Ryan entered into a Newington Forest Partnership in June 1977. The $10 million development package included the costs of rezoning -- from one-acre residential to planned development housing -- plus the building of roads and the costs of providing sewer and water services, Yeonas said.

Rezoning had been obtained by Yeonas in February 1976 after the site had been laid out for development by Sasaki and Associates of Watertown, Mass., and the Dewberry, Nealon & Davis architectural and land planning firm in northern Virginia.

"The assignment was to cluster the houses in some areas and to have some smaller-than-usual single lots to provide natural open space around the stream valley," Yeonas said.

The Newington selling success is not altogether surprising to Steve Yeonas. He got his start in the business by building for first-time buyers in Vienna, Va., once considered a "far-out" area. Also, the Yeonas Co. had quickly sold 600 houses it developed in the early 1970s at nearby Newington Station.

William Ray, the general manager at Newington Forest, said that house sales and completions have averaged 400 a year in the two years the community has been open. Prices range from about $55,000 for the smallest Ryan town houses to about $140,000 for some of the semi-custom homes being by Garrett & Associates and Burman Building. The community's developers sold 100 lots earlier to those two builders and to MAP Construction, which has sold 20 houses.

To date, a pool, a modest community center, four tennis courts, two basketball courts some some other recreation facilities are in place and more are planned as development continues.

It was estimated originally that the total community development and sellout would go into 1984. But Ryan's Titus said this week that the current pace of building and selling indicates that completion could occur in 1982 or 1983.

He credited the Ryan financing package for first-time buyers, including graduated payment mortgages with low payments in early years, for keeping potential purchasers interested. He added that Ryan Financial Services arranges 85 percent of the loans made by Ryan, which also builds in 21 other eastern markets.

"Building at Newington is also more economical for Ryan," he added. "Instead of a usual 130-140-day cycle for completing a house, we now can do it in 100 days because of the consistency involved with being here on a long-term basis. We do not sell ahead of lot development and we maintain a very low inventory (only seven as of last week) of finished, unsold houses. And we also have more complete control of what we are producing.

The Newington Forest houses are being built on about 75 streets that were laid out by Dewberry, Nealon & Davis. But they were named (Falling Leaf Drive, Misty Blue Court and Rainbow Bridge Lane, among others) by Stephen G. Yeonas Jr., who recently joined Yeonas Investment Co. What's his title? "He hasn't been here long enough to have one yet," said his father.