Transcript is published for November 16 Chicago roundtable

The National Law Journal (NLJ) and the University of Chicago Law School presented a roundtable discussion in Chicago on Nov. 16 called, “Life after Poletown: What is the Future of Takings in America?” The discussion was moderated by NLJ Associate Editor Carla Main, and explored the growing national controversy over the expanded definition of public use in eminent domain and the taking of private property for the purpose of municipal economic development.

The focus of the discussion was the pending hearing by the US Supreme Court of kelo v. New London — scheduled for February 22. Participants were chiefly concerned with three issues:
  • Whether the "public use" requirement of the Fifth Amendment should be narrowly interpreted, or can be construed to include public benefits such as tax revenues and jobs that follow from development by private parties.
  • Whether the "just compensation" requirement of the Fifth Amendment applies strictly to the physical value of the property at the time of its taking, or should include factors such as the social or business costs to the original owners and the worth when actions by the government body are eliminated from the equation.
  • Whether specific plans, with definite schedules, have been established for the use of the condemned property — or if the projected development is wholly or partly speculative.
An unedited transcript of the session is online at:

Submitted to Eminent Domain Watch by Wright Gore, Freeport TX


Council vote continues BRA powers — The Boston Globe, 12/16/04

By Heather Allen and Andrea Estes

The City Council voted yesterday to extend the Boston Redevelopment Authority's urban renewal powers until 2015, allowing the agency to continue using eminent domain in private development projects.

In voting 8-4 to extend the BRA's powers, the council won more oversight over the agency, which agreed to give the council 30 days notice on all large city-owned eminent domain projects and to seek council approval on some development activities.

The vote also ends a year and a half of debate with the council, culminating yesterday in a meeting that dragged well into the evening, as lawyers haggled over the final agreement.

"Did we get everything we wanted? Probably not," said Councilor John Tobin. "I don't think the BRA did either. We're not looking to do the BRA's job. We wanted transparency, better communications, and a seat at the table. That's what we got."

According to the measure approved yesterday, an annual report must be submitted from the BRA to the council. Although the council cannot veto an eminent domain proposal, some councilors said yesterday that the notification adds a level of transparency not available to the public before.

A requirement that the BRA notify the council of major changes in the city's urban renewal plans is a dramatic concession, several councilors said. Now, the BRA will be required to inform the council when it takes large parcels of public land by eminent domain.

Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said the BRA is "not giving up any of its authority to act as a development body for the City of Boston."

The Boston Globe: www.boston.com/news/globe

Groups Seek Legal Remedy For Eminent Domain — The (New London CT) Day, 12/16/04

Fort Trumbull case spawns briefs filed with Supreme Court

By Kate Moran

The Institute for Justice has soldered progressive and conservative groups into a surprising coalition that is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to prohibit the taking of private property for economic development.

Twenty-five groups with assorted political views have filed briefs in support of the Fort Trumbull residents who are resisting the city's effort to take their houses to make way for offices and a hotel that will strengthen the city's tax base. The Institute for Justice is representing those residents before the high court, which will hear the case on Feb. 22.

The use of eminent domain riles libertarian groups, including the Cato Institute, because it infringes on an individual's right to hold property. And it vexes progressive groups, including the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, because it undermines the strength of community.

“If you look at the list, there's a left-right consensus,” said Richard Epstein, the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago and the counsel for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “If you care about community, how do you build a community by knocking down houses and putting up sewers?”

Among the people and groups that have rallied behind the property owners are Jane Jacobs, a renowned urban planning theorist; John Norquist, president of the Congress for New Urbanism; the AARP; the American Farm Bureau; and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Those groups filed their briefs earlier this month, at the same time the Institute for Justice presented its opening brief to the court. The city and the New London Development Corp. will file a reply brief on Jan. 14, when their amicus curiae, or friend of the court, briefs will also be due.

At issue in the case is whether governments, claiming the need to produce jobs and tax revenue, can take private homes and businesses and hand them to developers who dangle promises of economic growth.

While the city and NLDC will argue that such development improves public welfare as a whole, the Institute for Justice and its allies believe that such takings undermine property rights and disrupt communities rather than strengthen them.

Several of the amicus briefs filed this month claim that massive redevelopments, by their very nature, target modest neighborhoods — the kind that tend to have high concentrations of elderly people or minorities who lack the political clout to fight back against powerful private developers.

“The reason these groups are disproportionately affected is that they are palatable political and economic targets,” says the brief co-sponsored by, among others, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the AARP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The same brief points out that relocation can be particularly traumatic for people like Wilhelmina Dery, a Fort Trumbull resident who has lived in her house since 1918. The elderly not only have deep sentimental ties to their homes, but they often have paid off mortgages and might not have the resources to find desirable housing in the current market.

“Older folks are uniquely affected by losing their homes and communities because of the time they've put in,” said Susan Ann Silverstein, an attorney for AARP, the senior citizens' advocacy organization.

The Cato Institute takes up the same line of thought when it points out that takings for economic development ask a few property owners to make an extreme sacrifice for the benefit of the many, without assurance they will share in the spoils.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution requires any level of government that condemns private property to pay the owners “just compensation” for their losses. However, several of the briefs contend that paying an owner for fair market value does not make up for feelings of personal loss or for the dismantling of a community.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty notes that religious institutions and other non-profits are especially vulnerable to takings for economic development because they produce none of the tax revenue coveted by poor cities. They do, however, produce “public goods,” or a social support network, that is not factored into the economic development equation, the brief argues.

This is where the Becket Fund, a group that advocates for the free expression of religion in public life, intersects with Jane Jacobs, the urban planning expert and author of the book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”

The Jacobs brief argues that redevelopment guts neighborhoods by scattering its residents and destabilizing the vital interaction among business and religious and civic groups. Projects like Fort Trumbull replace “real neighborhoods with counterfeits,” the brief says.

Common through all the briefs is the notion that eminent domain, specifically when invoked for economic development, inflicts terrible harm on residents while awarding profits to private developers who might use their money and influence to win special indulgences from governments.

In the case of Fort Trumbull, the city and the NLDC took the private property; the state also subsidized the project with $73 million.

The other side has argued that New London took the property to reverse a long pattern of economic decline and to capitalize on the arrival of the Pfizer Inc. global research headquarters, a major coup for the city after it lost thousands of jobs when the Naval Undersea Warfare Center left in 1996.

Daniel Krisch, an attorney representing the city and the NLDC, said he expects at least seven or eight amicus briefs to be filed in support of his clients. Other cities and planning associations, as well as a panel of law professors, are likely to file when the briefs are due in January.

The Day: www.theday.com

Links to all amicus briefs supporting the petitioners are online at

Supreme Court to hear New London eminent domain case Feb. 22 — Associated Press, 12/16/04

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on Feb. 22 in a New London eminent domain case that could clarify when governments may seize people's property for economic development projects.

Twenty-five groups with assorted political views have filed briefs in support of the Fort Trumbull residents who are resisting the city's effort to take their houses to make way for offices and a hotel that will strengthen the city's tax base.

The 25 amicus briefs filed in the case represent the whole spectrum of political and social philosophy.
[Editor's note: links to copies of all briefs are online at

Among the people and groups that have rallied behind the property owners are the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, urban policy scholar Jane Jacobs, the Congress for New Urbanism, the AARP, the American Farm Bureau, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the National Association of Home Builders and the National Associated of Realtors.

The homeowners are being represented by the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based group that fights eminent domain abuses nationwide.

At issue in the case is whether governments, claiming the need to produce jobs and tax revenue, can take private homes and businesses and hand them to developers who make promises of economic growth.

While the city and New London Development Corp. will argue that such development improves public welfare as a whole, the Institute for Justice and its allies believe that such takings undermine property rights and disrupt communities rather than strengthen them.

One theme common to many of the amicus briefs is the belief that eminent domain, specifically when invoked for economic development, inflicts harm on residents while awarding profits to private developers who might use their money and influence to win special indulgences from governments.

The Associated Press: www.ap.org


Grassroots Brooklyn development plan would avoid displacement

Atlantic Yards Development WorkShop (AYDWS)

A grassroots plan, AYDWS, has been proposed as part of a collaborate community effort, to develop the Atlantic Avenue Rail Yard in Brooklyn NY. This land, which is about 20 ft below grade level, is currently unused except for the daily passage of a few commuter trains. AYDWS was formed to discuss the best utilization and process for the property.

Forest City Ratner Corp has proposed to incorporate this area, along with a swath of adjoining property, into a development including an arena for the Nets and four residential towers. Community people claim this proposal will require considerable displacement of homes and business on land taken by eminent domain, and will also result in traffic congestion problems. The AYDWS approach, they say, will utilize the below-grade rail yards to increase the amount of retail space available, while lowering the height of residential buildings, adding "green" space as well as areas for recreational use, opening rather than closing streets and — most importantly — avoiding the need to take property by eminent domain. AYDWS does not include the Nets' arena.

Atlantic Yards Development Workshop:

Eminent Danger — Entrepreneur Magazine, 1/05

Cash-strapped cities use entrepreneurs' property to lure big businesses

By Joshua Kurlantzick

Dino Paspalakis was sure his business was secure. For 17 years, as co-owner of Joyland Amusement Center, a popular arcade in Daytona Beach, Florida, he's been pouring his money into upgrades, drawing a consistent clientele, and carrying on the family business. His father opened the arcade in the 1960s, after working every snack bar on the Daytona Beach boardwalk to make money to buy it, Paspalakis, 40, says.

But now he faces a threat. The city of Daytona Beach, using a legal doctrine called eminent domain, is trying to take the property and give it to developers to build high-rise condos and hotels. In February [2004], they told me they'll be seizing the land. Developers are pushing out [independent] shops, he says.

Paspalakis' story is hardly unique. Historically, city and state governments used eminent domain to take over property for public infrastructure, such as highways and schools. But in recent years, as cities have assumed more responsibility for encouraging economic development, they have extended the power of eminent domain and started repossessing property to give to developers and other large companies.

Eminent domain has increasingly been used as a redevelopment tool to transfer private property from one owner to another, argues Mark Brnovich of the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix think tank. And more often than not, the private property lost belongs to small companies.

A recent report by the Institute for Justice, a Washington, DC, public-interest law firm, found that about 10,000 properties across the nation were taken or threatened by eminent domain between 1998 and 2002. At least half those projects involved businesses being condemned or threatened with condemnation. In Colorado alone, the number of eminent domain cases rose 28 percent between 1999 and 2002, according to an investigation by The Denver Post.

While seizing these properties, cities argue they can transfer domain to private businesses seeking to develop the area because that economic development will be for the public good. Often, cities don't take into account how the move affects the small companies. Small businesses can be decimated by eminent domain, says Dana Berliner, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. Location is crucial to their success, and when they move, they can lose out. And while property owners are supposed to get 'just compensation,' few states require that the compensation take into account improvements put in by an entrepreneur.

In Mesa, Arizona, Randy Bailey, owner of Bailey¹s Brake Service, claims the city offered him only one-fourth of what he estimated his moving costs would be. Paspalakis says the city of Daytona Beach is offering far less than the true value of his beachfront property.

Until recently, most small businesses haven't fought these eminent domain cases, in part because legal fees would be high. But Berliner believes that may be changing. A few entrepreneurs have tried to get their businesses listed on state and national registers of historic sites, which can protect them from seizure. More important, small businesses have begun to sue cities and win cases against eminent domain. In July, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned a 1981 ruling in the famous Poletown case, which held that cities could serve the public good by handing property to private companies. Attorneys representing small businesses believe the Poletown decision will make municipal officials think more carefully before using eminent domain. Already, small businesses are suing cities in more than a dozen other states. The U.S. Supreme Court has now decided to consider whether cities are abusing eminent domain.

But the eminent domain trend is unlikely to change without legislative action. In their most recent sessions, 10 state legislatures considered bills that would reform eminent domain by offering more protection to property owners. Yet only in Colorado did a piece of reform pass, and that legislation had less protection in it than the original draft of the bill. Small-business groups haven't been active in pushing against eminent domain, says Berliner. Unless that changes, more entrepreneurs might find themselves in Dino Paspalakis' position.

Entrepreneur Magazine: www.entrepreneur.com

Renewal vs. displacement weighs on Trenton — The (Trenton NJ) Times, 12/13/04

By Albert Raboteau

Alberta Thompson doesn't want to leave the two-story city row home where she has lived 49 years and raised nine children.

She has no choice.

The city plans to knock down all the houses left on her street, Titus Avenue, along with one block of Pennington Avenue, to make way for 15 new houses officials hope will each fetch $90,000, nearly twice what Thompson stands to receive in compensation.

"I will be hating to move, but when they say you have to, there's nothing you can do, especially when you're poor," said the 84-year-old grandmother, who as of late last week had agreed to a price but was still waiting to close her deal with the city.

For years, city officials have been buying up properties and knocking them down to make way for new housing developments. Their goal is to revive blighted neighborhoods and help a greater number of people achieve the American dream of prosperity by owning quality homes.

Ironically, in their effort to promote ownership, city officials sometimes force longtime homeowners such as Thompson to sell under threat of condemnation.

For important renewal projects to be possible in a crowded city, "You have to be willing to move people," said Dennis Gonzalez, assistant city business administrator. "We don't have 35 square miles of property to recreate our town center somewhere else."

Officials expect to pay Thompson up to $15,000 relocation assistance, on top of $32,000 for her 113-year-old home.

"We want to be fair and compassionate and I believe we are, and I also believe that the greater good will certainly be served in that area when you have more homeownership," said Mayor Douglas H. Palmer.

But being forced to move did not sit well with Thompson and her family.

"It's the memory thing," said her grandson, Derrick Smith. "You can't put a price tag on that."

The prospect of residents being forced to sell their homes recently generated controversy in the city's South Ward, where developers wanted to knock down 10 blocks to make way for 350 new homes, stores and 120 apartments.

The new community would have been called Village Centre. Amid an outcry by opponents, Palmer disavowed the project, which is no longer expected to be built.

Palmer said he will devise a new plan for the region that will try to avoid displacing so many people or knocking down what buildings can realistically be preserved.

Meanwhile, Thompson's neighborhood, near the Battle Monument in the city's North Ward, has already been radically remade.

Titus Avenue is a dead-end street between two relatively new housing developments: Monument Crossing and North Willow Green. The latter was built by the same developers who sought to create Village Centre.

"The idea is to make that area near the Battle Monument larger and larger," Gonzalez said. "There is Monument Crossing and North Willow Green, and the idea is for the stuff in between to be done as well."

The area is now pointed to with pride by city officials, a far cry from when it was notorious for drugs and prostitution and the Battle Monument was derisively nicknamed "Bottle Monument" for the broken glass at its base.

Governments forcing people to sell their property to make way for developments, whether highways, schools or even housing complexes, is nothing new. But condemning property to help economic development projects, as opposed to public works projects, is drawing increasing criticism.

Several such projects in New Jersey have sparked fierce opposition. They include plans to knock down hundreds of homes in the Mount Holly Gardens community and to remake Camden's Cramer Hill neighborhood.

On the national level, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the arguments of Susette Kelo, a New London, Conn., homeowner who is challenging her town's attempt to force her to sell her home to make way for new development along the Thames River.

South Jersey Legal Services, which filed suits against both Camden and Mount Holly over redevelopments, has filed a friend-of-the court brief on Kelo's behalf.

According to the Institute for Justice, the Libertarian public interest law firm that petitioned the Supreme Court in the Kelo case, local governments across the country are abusing eminent-domain law to transfer property to developers in order to generate more tax revenue from what is built than what was there before.

An Institute report published last year said that nationwide, between 1997 and 2002, governments took or threatened to take more than 10,000 properties to support economic development projects.

The Institute "probably has the most comprehensive numbers of what's going on across the country," said Tim Duggan, a lawyer with Lawrence-based Stark & Stark.

In eminent-domain proceedings, governments and property owners submit competing appraisals to a judge, who then decides the value of the property. Property owners cannot refuse to sell for that price.

Duggan said that in the past couple years he has represented about 15 clients, including Thompson, against the state capital in cases where eminent domain has been used or threatened.

"It may not be the nicest part of town, but you can't just start pulling property from people because you think something better should go there," Duggan said. "That's just flat out not right."

City officials had no statistics readily available indicating the number of private properties they have acquired in recent years either through or with the threat of eminent domain.

In the Kelo case, the Institute for Justice hopes the Supreme Court will clarify and put new limits on what constitutes a "public use," which is the vague criterion that projects have to meet if eminent domain is to be allowed, said Institute attorney Bert Gall.

"Everyone's home could make more tax dollars if turned into a business, and every small business could generate more tax dollars if transformed into a big-box store," Gall said. "A line has to be drawn."

Wendell Pritchett, a University of Pennsylvania assistant professor who specializes in property law, said cities often have abused their redevelopment power but still should not have that power broadly curtailed by the Supreme Court.

"It is very difficult to collect the kind of property that is needed for modern redevelopment without use of eminent domain," Pritchett said. "If that power was weakened, I do think it would be a problem for many cities."

Eminent domain's supporters said governments need that option or redevelopment efforts would be impossible because property owners would block projects until paid huge "ransoms."

"There's a lot of opportunists out there. There's guys that buy into redevelopment areas specifically to be the thorn in the side of the developer and get ransom money," said David Barry, president of Hoboken-based Applied Development Co., a private company involved in developing Long Branch's seaside, where attempts to use eminent domain have caused an uproar.

If New Jersey's local governments could not force property sales when necessary, fewer new homes would be built in cities, more would wind up in rural areas and sprawl would worsen, Barry said.

Barry also said eminent domain tends to get one-sided news coverage that focuses on the displaced rather than the greater good that projects bring, including ridding areas of landlords who don't care for their properties.

"It's really easy to single out the one case where a quiet little old lady who's been living there 40 years has her house taken," Barry said. Make that 47 years in the case of Gertrude Campbell, Alberta Thompson's 87-year-old neighbor. Campbell said she refused three times when pressed by the city to sell, before giving in when told she would be bought out regardless.

The city bought Campbell's home for $20,000 in September. It was assessed at $33,000 for tax purposes.

On Monday, Campbell moved to a nearby apartment complex for seniors located not far from her longtime home on Titus Avenue.

Campbell said the city's initial offer to her was $17,000 and that she was less bothered by having to move than by having been paid less than she paid for the house in 1957.

"I really didn't think they done fair, (but) I'm 87 years old and don't need headaches," Campbell said.

A developer has not been named for the project on Titus and Pennington avenues. Construction is expected to begin by summer.

Gonzalez said the city tries to force people to sell properties as infrequently as possible.

"We don't do it haphazardly," Gonzalez continued. "We don't go out to hurt people, and we make a sincere attempt to work with the people who are displaced to find them a better situation."

Campbell's daughter, Janet L. Campbell, said the family is happy she had found a new place to live. But they resent that she was forced into that decision.

"I thought it was my house," Gertrude Campbell said while standing in her former doorway just a few days before her move. "I thought that when you keep it up, it's yours. But I guess not - when they want it."

The Times: www.nj.com/news/times

Abusing eminent domain: Big-box bullies — Pittsburgh (PA) Tribune-review, 12/13/04

Big-box retailers use Big Government to box-out the little guy.

Mega-merchandisers such as Costco Wholesale Corp., Home Depot Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. try to control acquisition costs the old-fashion way — they have politicians take the desired land from property owners so it can be transferred to them.

"Legalized theft" is not an oxymoron to those familiar with eminent domain. Government's right of eminent domain had been limited to taking private property, and offering compensation, for truly public uses. New roads. Fire stations. Courthouses.

Now government grabs private property on behalf of the big-box bullies. The confiscation is rationalized as being for the greater good, supposedly to create jobs and produce taxes. And the original owner is offered some money.

The jumbo-jerk arrogance was epitomized by Costco vice president Joel Benoliel. He told shareholders two years ago that "probably dozens" of its projects involve eminent domain "or the threat of it." He also offered that this is not a corruption of the free market and that limiting government land-grabbing to genuine public uses was a "simplistic" libertarian argument.

Big-box stores could be made to appreciate the simplicity of that libertarian argument if government ever grabs their real estate — in the name of "the public good" — to hand over to their competitors.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:


Development Could Lead To Eminent Domain — WBNS-TV (Columbus OH), 12/12/04

Neighbors voiced their opposition Saturday night

The Milo Grogan neighborhood is organizing against a proposal for a new shopping center that would wipe out 200 homes through eminent domain.

About a hundred people met at a Gibbard Avenue church Saturday night to shore up opposition to plans being proposed by developer Jerome Solove.

People living in the near north side neighborhood do not oppose the idea of revitalizing the area. But they object to tearing down homes in order to do it. They say his idea to make something of the old Timken bearing factory at Cleveland and Fifth avenues is fine.

They want Solove to find another way than asking the city to condemn hundreds of homes surrounding 31 acre factory side.

"He's already rich,” Daisy Milner said of Solove. “We're poor folks. We work every day. Why can't we be heard? Can't we be heard?"

But the city may already be listening to residents of the area.

"Nobody wants to do eminent domain,'' Columbus Development Director Mark Barbash told the Columbus Dispatch earlier this week. "Columbus is such a conservative community that to start a project with eminent domain is the wrong place to start.

"The first thing you talk about is what's best for the neighborhood,'' Barbash said.

At the same time, Barbash didn’t explicitly rule out the possibility.

"The last thing I want to do,'' he said, "is get down on a redevelopment opportunity.''

Jerome Solove bought the empty Timken plant this past fall. At the height of its operation, Timken employed 5,400 people. When it closed in 2001, about 220 people were still employed there.

WBNS-TV: www.10tv.com

Free State ad campaign targeting unhappy Connecticut homeowners — Foster's Sunday Citizen, 12/11/04

By Beverley Wang (Associated Press)

The Free State Project is hungry for recruits and is again casting its net in troubled waters.

Through December, the libertarian group is running online advertisements in The Day, a daily newspaper in New London, Conn., where a group of homeowners has taken an eminent domain dispute to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Homeowners in New London’s Fort Trumbull neighborhood say the city’s attempt to seize their land to build tax-rich properties is unconstitutional because it does not adequately demonstrate "public use," a condition of eminent domain. The New London Development Corporation wants to build a hotel, health club and offices on the site of the homes, bringing in more tax dollars.

On Friday, an ad for the Free State Project appeared on the paper’s Web site next to an article about the land dispute.

"Taking away private property to give to a large corporation is like Robin Hood in reverse. Come with us to where this doesn’t happen and help us win even more freedom," the ad read.

A click on the ad takes Web surfers to a press release on the Free State Project site. It announces the group’s intention to recruit "displaced" New London residents. That site links to the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm representing the seven homeowners involved.

"Most people recognize that eminent domain is one of the greatest abuses of government power in this country," said James Maynard, a Free State Project spokesman. "It does upset a lot of people, and we want to give them another option."

The New London homeowners so far have not lost their homes. Lawyer Scott Bullock says it’s not likely his clients will join the Free State Project, which aims to recruit 20,000 freedom-minded people by 2006. The ad has gotten 200 hits since it started running, said Free State Project President Amanda Phillips.

"It’s nice that the Free State Project is supportive of the Fort Trumbull homeowners, but right now we’re focused on keeping them in Fort Trumbull and New London," said Bullock, who said the institute and the Free State Project are not affiliated.

"These people don’t even know us, and they’re inviting us to live there [in New Hampshire]. It’s kind of refreshing," said Fort Trumbull homeowner Matt Dery, who said he has no intention of moving.

This is the third time Free Staters have sought recruits from towns in turmoil. Earlier this year, the Free State Project ran print and television ads in Killington, Vt., where town officials proposed seceding from the state and joining New Hampshire for tax reasons. Free Staters also advertised in South Carolina in the aftermath of a high-school drug raid.

The Free State Project chose New Hampshire as its promised land because of the state’s lack of a personal income and sales tax and its "Live Free or Die" motto. The group supports restricting government to the protection of life, liberty and property rights. Individual members support a grab-bag of issues including home-schooling, second amendment rights and the legalization of "victimless" crimes like marijuana possession.

It’s unlikely the group will make its goal of 7,000 members by the end of 2004, said project founder Jason Sorens. There were 6,250 members on Friday, 317 in New Hampshire, according to its Web site.

Sorens said the group is experimenting with different recruiting tactics to bring up numbers.

"If we don’t get things moving faster, then I guess we’ll have to reevaluate the 20,000 goal," he said.

A splinter group, known as the Free Town Project, sparked a panic in sparsely populated Grafton, N.H. Rumors surfaced that group members wanted to take over the town.

Foster's Sunday Citizen www4.fosters.com