It wasn't your usual picket line.
Louis Vuitton handbags, rock-sized diamonds, gold shining everywhere. And most of the marchers were elderly.
But this wasn't your usual fight, either.
For many parading outside the gates of the Promenade Apartments in Bethesda last weekend, signs hoisted high above their well-coiffed heads, this was their first picket line. This was also the first time, they said, that they faced moving involuntarily.
The Pooks Hill luxury apartment building is going cooperative and its tenants vow they won't go without a fight.
The tenants' fight centers on what they -- and county officials -- consider an attempt by American Invsco, the new owners of the building, to circumvent strict county condominium laws.
County conversion laws only apply to condominiums, not cooperatives. Condominiums involve pruchasing a unit, whereas cooperatives involve buying shares in a corporation. The county, however, is considering legislation that would also control cooperative conversions.
So far, the tentant's fight -- although tenacious and constant -- has failed.
Already, a Montgomery County Circuit court Judge has dismissed three cases aimed at halting or slowing the conversion of the 1,072-unit building -- including a nine-month moratorium on cooperative conversions. County and tenant lawyers say they will appeal the decisions, but the appeals will take at least two months. The dismissals appear to have cleared the way for American Invsco to begin the conversion process.
Tenants have until Sept. 1 to decide whether they will buy units. After that date, outsiders will be allowed to bid.
Most of the elderly pickets said they would never be able to afford to purchase their units, whatever the deadline. The monthly purchase payments would be three times as high as the current rent, they said.
Take Frieda White -- 61 and a widow. She moved to the Promenade four years ago after she sold her 14-room Bethesda home for $140,000. Her unit, American Invsco officials have told her, will cost around $120,000 and monthly payments will run around $1,300.
White's current monthly rent is $495 -- and she really cannot afford even that amount, she said.
If the tenants continue to lose their battle against conversion, White said, she will begin looking for a smaller apartment.
"Like many of the older woman who live, here, I never through I would have to move again when I came to the Promenade. I thought I would die here," said White, elegant in a gypsy-style dress. "We've had our homes, our children and our husbands. The Promenade is now our home -- our castle."
American Invsco officials said some low-income and elderly handicapped residents would be quilified for a two-year extension of their leases. Other tenants who do not have leases will have to leave by Jan. 31 if their units are sold. According to tenant association representatives, most residents have month-to-month leases.
The fight against Chicago-based American Invsco and the conversion of the Promenade Apartments has not been restricted to the Montgomery area. Prompted by a letter from Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.) outlining the Promenade controversy, the House Government Operations subcommittee on commerce, consumer and monetary affairs sent out letters this week to federal agencies dealing with the housing market. The letters asked officials to investigate the conversion of the rental units.
The conversion is expected to be on the agenda when the Promenade Tenants Association meets tonight at 7:30 at the B'Nai Israel Temple, 6301 Montrose Road, Rockville.