Most of one of Northern Virginia's oldest and largest garden apartment complexes, the Buckingham Community in Arlington, has been sold to a Chicago real estate developer who specializes in condominium coversions. The price was reported to be $60 million.

County officials and tenants leaders yesterday expressed concern that the sale of 1,400 units of the 1,800-unit complex by the Ohio-based Klingbeil Corp. to Stein and Co. could mean the eventual loss of 10 percent of Arlington's rapidly dwindling stock of moderate-cost living.

The county already has lost about a quarter of its rental units in recent years.

In the last two years the Chicago-based firm headed by Richard Stein has bought two other Klingbeil properties, the Hyde Park and Chatham Apartments, also in Arlington, which recently have been converted to condominiums.

"Buckingham is the largest garden apartment in the county and provides a substantial amount, of low- and moderate-cost housing for elderly and families," said Fran Lunney, Arlington's tenant-landload coordinator. "If all the units were lost to conversion this would have a serious impact."

Stein could not be reached for comment yesterday but county manager W. Vernon Ford said the developer had agreed to meet with county officials before announcing his plans for the 42-year-old sprawling red brick comples, which is centered around the intersection of Glebe Road and Pershing Drive. Rents for one-bedroom apartments at the complex, located a mile from the Ballston Metro station, start $310 a month.

"We feel very strong that whatever [Stein] does should minimize displacement of current tenants," said Susan Shanley, president of the Buckingham Tenants Association. "But with Metro coming out here the feeling is that anybody without money is no longer welcome in this country."

In the past several years Arlington has lost about 25 percent of its stock of moderate-cost garden apartments, nearly 8,000 units, to condominium conversions. Pressure to redevelop areas around Metro stations have been particularly intense recently, largely because of the great demand for office developments and housing close to Washington.

Sources speculated yesterday that the Klingbeil Co., whose officials could not be reached for comment, withheld from sale a cluster of 400 apartment units and the nearby Buckingham shopping center because the firm plans to build office buildings on that site.

Rumors of condominium conversion have circulated periodically at the complex since 1978, when Columbus developer James D. Klingbeil spent $50 million to purchase Buckingham and other properties in Arlington. Shortly after he bought the complex Klingbeil announced plans to "improve the quality of life" at the deteriorating complex, but tenants complained that he waited more than 18 months before making badly needed repairs.