Who is Carter Woods and what did he ever do that was so great the City of Greensboro should name a street after him?

That was the big question at the Greensboro City Council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 17.  City Councilmember Tony Wilkins asked that question four times at the meeting during a discussion over whether the city should change the name of a section of Spring Oak Drive in Greensboro, between Clarkson Road and Country Woods Lane, to Carter Woods Drive. 

Other city councilmembers had the same question at the meeting as well.

City staff members who were bringing the street name change suggestion to the City Council were clearly hoping that the councilmembers would rubberstamp the change without discussion.  But one resident who lives on Spring Oak Drive would have none of it. 

They say you can’t fight city hall, however, Melisa Graves, who lives on that street, apparently either wasn’t aware of that maxim or didn’t believe it.  Graves fought hard against the name change and won her battle – though in the end she may still lose the war if the City Council brings the matter up next month.

“I’m here to speak in opposition of the name change,” Graves said at the meeting, adding that she was nervous.  “I don’t know how this works, but I should because my mom is a council woman where I’m from.”

Graves explained why the road name change was a highly unwelcome change for her and others who live on the street.

“It’ll be a logistical nightmare,” Graves said.

She said she had four boxes of checks that she would have to change and also said that family, friends and other visitors who use navigation systems and map software would no doubt have trouble finding her house with the new address.  She said it would cost money to make the change and it was a totally unnecessary move that didn’t make any sense and, she added, none of the residents wanted it.

“I’m from New Jersey and this is the first place I’ve ever seen with so many similar names as I’m driving,” Graves said.

She asked what is was – with all the similar names there are in Greensboro – that was special about her street that made the city want to change its name so badly.  According to city staff, the move was recommended largely to avoid confusion for emergency responders to 911 calls because the name Spring Oak Drive was similar to the name of the adjacent street, Spring Oak Court.  But Graves said she’d lived on the street for five years and there had never been a case of someone needing emergency help and drivers being confused by the street names.

Greensboro Assistant City Manager David Parrish said there had been five or six “confusion calls” in the last year and that mix-ups can delay emergency response and lead to other problems.

City Councilmember Jamal Fox had a lot of questions about how often that type of problem happens around town, and how the problems for Graves’ street compares with those on other streets that have names that sound similar to other streets.

“How many streets do we have in this city that have similar issues?” Fox asked.

Fox, along with other councilmembers, also wanted to know why the name of Spring Oak Drive was being changed while the name Spring Oak Court was being kept the same.  Only later in the discussion did staff finally give the answer: Spring Oak Drive was a slightly newer road and it also had fewer residents than Spring Oak Court.

Graves, however, wasn’t convinced.  She said she was on a neighborhood board and had consulted with her neighbors and, Graves said, no one there wanted the change.

“I don’t see any logical reason for it,” she said, and she reiterated that she sees similar street names all over Greensboro and no one was forcing those streets to change name.

During the discussion, Wilkins kept asking his question to staff.  One he’d asked twice unsuccessfully.

“I’m sure Mr. Woods is a real nice guy, but still, this is the third time I’ve asked,” Wilkins said.

The discussion moved on once again before he got an answer.

Assistant City Manager Wesley Reid, who oversees 911 operations, said that people who call in are often in an emotional state and frantic and they don’t always say the whole name and therefore anytime there’s less ambiguity in street names the better.

City Councilmember Justin Outling wanted staff to have their way and said that he didn’t want the blood on his hands if the council fought staff on this and a failure to rename the street resulted in someone dying because an ambulance arrived later than it otherwise would have.

Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann also seemed to back staff at first.

“Life is full of inconveniences and sometimes we just have to deal with it,” she said of the inconvenience of a street name change

Greensboro City Councilmember Sharon Hightower wanted to know who initiated the street change.

The city’s Technical Review Committee (TRC) had recommended the change, and the Greensboro Planning Board was asked to make the recommendation to the City Council since Spring Oak Court and Spring Oak Drive are next to each other and this has caused some confusion with both 911 call dispatchers and delivery services

City staff wanted the change to take effect “immediately” on the approval of the City Council. 

At the Nov. 17 meeting, Steve Galanti, a planning manager for the city, said the current setup was indeed confusing to emergency responders.  The name Carter Woods was chosen because it was in accordance with the city’s naming policy, it didn’t duplicate an existing name and wasn’t phonetically similar to the other streets in the city.

When Galanti was done speaking on the matter, Fox said, “In your presentation, it didn’t give me anything new.”  He said he still had questions such as to how Spring Oak Drive compared with other streets in this regard and that in the future staff should anticipate these types of questions from the City Council and be prepared to answer them.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan wanted to take a vote on the matter, but Wilkins still was looking for an answer to his question.

“Wait a minute,” he said.  “I haven’t gotten an answer.”

He said that since he had now asked the question four times, he would like an answer: Who the heck was Carter Woods?

Vaughan said, ”Well, obviously, they don’t know the answer.”

There was a pause at that point as everyone in the room realized how strange it was that the city was on the verge of naming a street after someone who no one apparently knew anything about.  For all they knew, Carter Woods could be a serial killer who gained notoriety by carving gruesome designs into his victims before leaving them in shallow graves.

An astonished Wilkins pointed out the absurdity of the moment.

“They don’t know the answer?” he asked.

Finally, one staff member found the answer, which was that Carter Woods was just a combinations of two words that sounded good and weren’t too similar to existing street names in Greensboro.

In the end the City Council voted 9 to 0 to continue the matter, get more information and plan to bring it back up in December.  And Melisa Graves got her victory over city hall – at least for the time being.

If city staff is set on changing names of streets that sound alike in Greensboro, well, they certainly have a target-rich environment: Elm Street, Elm Wood, Elm Court, Pisgah Church Road, Pisgah Place and on and on.