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Smithfield drops Ava Gardner Avenue

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SMITHFIELD — The Smithfield Town Council reversed its Oct. 10 vote and scrapped a plan to rename a portion of Booker Dairy Road to honor local legend Ava Gardner.

The board voted Thursday to eliminate the Ava Gardner Avenue dedication in response to a letter from Gardner relatives and Johnston County Heritage Center Director Todd Johnson asking that the late actress’ name not be used.

At the Oct. 1 meeting, Councilman David Barbour made a motion, seconded by David Stevens, to rename the road from U.S. 301 North to Buffalo Road.

Barbour, Stevens and Mayor Pro-tem Travis Scott voted in favor of the motion. Councilmen Emery Ashley, John Dunn and Stephen Rabil voted against the motion. Councilman Marlon Lee did not vote and his vote counted in favor of the motion. The motion was approved on a 4-3 vote.

Scott had made a previous unsuccessful motion to rename the section of road Ava Gardner Parkway.

At the Nov. 12 meeting, the council voted to add the renaming of Booker Dairy Road to the agenda. When it came time to discuss the issue, council voted to continue the matter to Thursday.

The letter, dated Oct. 15, was signed by Mary Edna Grimes Grantham, Gardner’s niece; Ava Creech Thompson, Gardner’s grandniece and an Ava Gardner Trust trustee; and Johnson.

“We are grateful that you have seen fit to honor our beloved hometown star,” the letter states. “We would prefer that her name not be used in the naming of this particular road. There is no known connection between Ms. Gardner and this geographic area, and we feel the renaming of this road would be inappropriate.

“If it is not possible to rename a section of U.S. 70 or perhaps Brogden Road, both of which have direct connections to Ava Gardner, we would simply prefer that her name not be used in a road naming.”

At Thursday’s meeting, Town Manager Mike Scott said the extension would open plats of land for relatively quick development. He also said staff recommended the entire road have the same name.

“This new section is supposed to go through the plats back around to Buffalo Road,” said Scott. “That’s problematic with too many Booker Dairy Roads. The state has asked us to name the road.”

“I wasn’t in favor of Ava Gardner Boulevard,” said Scott. “There’s already a monument sign a the cemetery where she’s buried. I think we’d be doing an injustice to the Booker family. The town is growing and changing and when we’re faced with decisions like this, it’s not an easy issue. I’m concerned about emergency response and these names do cause confusion.”

After discussion, the council voted to name the extension, which runs from U.S. 301 at Walmart to a new traffic light at the Booker Dairy Road T-section, to Booker Dairy Road Extension.

The original Booker Dairy Road, which runs south-north, from the Jewel Box on U.S. 301 to the new T-section, will continue west to Buffalo Road as Booker Dairy Road.

The small section where the original Booker Dairy Road curved left at what will become the new T-section and traffic light has been cut off and will become Old Booker Dairy Road. That section has seven property owners.

Dunn made the motion, which Stephens and Rabil supported. Mayor Pro-tem Scott and Barbour opposed it. Mayor Andy Moore, Councilmen Emery Ashley and Marlon Lee were absent. The motion passed 3-2.

Scott said he was concerned the action might create confusion.

Town Manager Scott said NCDOT officials told him the new extension should be finished by early December.