Prospect Heights residents protest plans to convert condos to apartments

Residents of the River Trails condominiums in Prospect Heights protested plans on Monday to sell the 16-building, 360-unit complex to a developer who would convert the condos to apartments.

The River Trails Condominium Association board of directors decided to list the complex for sale after being approached by as many as seven local developers interested in deconverting the condos, located south of Palatine Road and west of Milwaukee Avenue. And last month, the condo board formally decided to enlist the services of real estate broker CBRE to solicit bids nationally.

That led to Monday's protest by dozens of residents, holding signs and walking up and down the sidewalks of their complex, to oppose the possible sale and call for the removal of the five condo board members. Residents chanted, "Units not for sale," and "We want the board out," before a scheduled 7 p.m. condo board meeting. But the meeting was canceled because of a power outage at the community center where it was to be held.

A sale could ultimately only be approved by a vote of 75 percent of owners, with some votes being weighted depending on how many units and number of bedrooms each person owns. A sale would be binding upon all unit owners.

CBRE has told residents the condo complex is worth more than $40 million, which means sale prices could range from $90,800 for a one-bedroom, one-bath unit, to $127,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bath unit.

Tom Infusino, one of the condo board members, said those prices are better than what individual condos are being listed for at River Trails. A number of investors who rent out their condos have lost value in the properties and are looking to sell, he added.

"People have said, 'Yeah, I'm trying to sell my unit and can't get enough money - this would be good,'" Infusino said. "A bunch of people also say, 'This is my home.' I have sympathy for them, but they could get more money for their unit and rent it back, or buy another place."

But Virgilio Arreguin, one of the organizers of Monday's protest whose parents live at River Trails, said the money owners might get from a sale would hardly cover the cost of buying another condo nearby.

"It sounds tempting, but then when you start looking into Wheeling and Mount Prospect, that's really nothing," said Arreguin, a local Realtor.

If a sale goes through, any owner who wants to stay would be able to rent their unit from the new owner, after receiving closing proceeds, Infusino said.

More than half the condos at River Trails are rented. Current leases would be taken over by the new owner.

Mayor Nick Helmer said city officials met with upset River Trails residents last week, but there is little the city can do since the dispute is between the condo board and owners. The possible conversion to apartments wouldn't be surprising, Helmer said, considering the real estate market.

"Condos haven't sold for the last several years, especially during and after the recession," Helmer said. "And there's no hope for the future, either, because the rental market is so strong.

"People said years ago, 'Why are you renting? You should be buying.' Now the mantra is, 'Why aren't you renting?'"

Infusino said a date for a vote hasn't yet been set.

  The River Trails condominiums, a 16-building complex in Prospect Heights, could be converted to apartments if 75 percent of owners approve a sale. Christopher Placek/
  Dozens of residents on Monday night protested plans to convert the River Trails condos in Prospect Heights to apartments. Christopher Placek/
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