Residents of the 655-unit Arlington Village development, one of Arlington County's major moderate-cost garden apartment complexes, have been notified that their apartments will be converted to condominiums.

Tenants were informed by letter on Monday of the Arlington Village Association's decision to convert "over several years so most residents will not be affected immediately." The Association, a group headed by Leland Phillips, president of the Frank S. Phillips Co. of Washington, purchased the complex last March for $9.7 million.

The letter did not specify a timetable for conversion but said it "will be structured to make home ownership an economic possibility for the maximum number of existing residents."

Some Arlington Village tenants yesterday expressed concern that elderly residents of the complex might be forced to relocate elsewhere in the county. Arlington currently has an apartment vacancy rate of less than 2 percent.

The owners have not yet filed required plans for the conversion with the Virginia Real Estate Commission, but they have applied for federal rent subsidy funds for 79 units, county officials said. Such funds can be used to help low-income residents pay rent.

One co-owner of the complex, Paul Nassestta, said yesterday that the 79 units would be set aside for low-income renters if the U.S. funds are approved.

"There are a lot of elderly people here who couldn't possible buy a $40,000-$50,000 condominium," said Howard Schellenberg Sr., 83, a resident since 1946. "We'll have to move down to Georgia, I guess - and I'm from New York and you know what that will mean to me."

Two tenant groups already have begun discussions on the planned conversion.

Sales discounts for current residents also were mentioned in the letter to tenants, although possible prices were not specified.

"I think [the owners] are serious about doing what they can to keep displacement at a minimum," said Fran Lunney of the Arlington County Planning Division.

The 40-acre red brick property is on South Barton Street near Columbia Pike, about three miles from downtown Washington.