‘Little Woods’ spark debate, puts Rich renaming on hold

“The Little Woods” were scheduled to be renamed “Barbara Rich’s Little Woods” at Monday night’s council meeting until a heated debate put the renaming on pause.

On paper, Ordinance 2–2019 seemed like the most innocuous item up for discussion on Monday night’s council agenda. The ordinance renaming “The Little Woods” on Creek Road to “Barbara Rich’s Little Woods” was adopted on first reading without discussion, and by all accounts, it looked as though it would pass second reading on Monday night as well.

But the renaming quickly became a source of heated debate when Deputy Mayor Nicole Gillespie inquired if the Little Family, the source of the open space’s original namesake, was consulted regarding the name change, and ultimately, the renaming was put on pause as a result of Monday’s discussions.

Gillespie explained that until recently, she thought the word “little” referred to the size of the woods until she researched the location and discovered that the woods once belonged to prominent silviculturist and Moorestown resident Dr. Silas Little. Gillespie acknowledged that while Rich is fully deserving of a recognition for her open space efforts, she wondered if the Little family had been contacted regarding the name change to avoid “setting ourselves up for something unpleasant that would tarnish this honor.”

Locatell responded by explaining that “Little” is not coming off the name, but Gillespie continued to press the issue. She said she’s heard from residents that they have concerns about the renaming, so she felt it was “her duty as an elected official” to broach these concerns.

“I just think that this was another prominent Moorestown resident that it was named after. You can find things online that it’s named after him, and I don’t want to see that erased,” Gillespie said. “I think we could honor Barbara appropriately without sticking her name onto somebody else’s.”

Councilwoman Victoria Napolitano said council has been discussing the renaming since December, and no one from the family has come forward with any concerns. She said the local open space community is aware of the renaming, and she suspects that if there was an issue, they would have been alerted by now. She said she took issue with the implication that they were “tacking” Rich’s name onto the space.

“We spoke to Barbara about what spaces in town are important to her and speak to her and this was one of them,” Napolitano said. “We didn’t make this decision lightly.”

Locatell said Rich was “greatly responsible” for getting Silas Little interested in selling the space to the township and for encouraging the township to step up and buy it. He said as much as they want to remember Silas Little at the site, he also thinks it’s more than appropriate to have Rich’s name attached as well.

“No one from the Little family has come out in the three months that this has been in the public view,” Locatell said.

Mayor Lisa Petriello inquired if the Little family still lives in town, to which Gillespie responded that she didn’t know. Both Napolitano and Locatell advocated for moving forward with the ordinance with Napolitano putting forth a motion for approval. Gillespie and Councilman Brian Donnelly made their cases for delaying with Donnelly becoming openly aggravated at one point during the discussion interjecting to say “who cares” if the motion is delayed.

“The whole town’s going to fall apart if we let this wait a month,” Donnelly said sarcastically.

Ultimately, Napolitano agreed to withdraw her motion for approval out of fear that the the motion would fail and the ordinance would go back to first reading. From there, Gillespie made a motion to withdraw the close of public hearing, so the renaming can continue its public hearing at the Feb. 25 council meeting. Gillespie said she was would take responsibility for tracking down and contacting the Little family in the interim.

During public comments, school board member Lauren Romano said when she was in high school, her family had involvement with the Little family, and there are currently no family members residing in Moorestown. She offered to provide contact information for the family members living in North Carolina.

The renaming will continue its public hearing at the Feb. 25 Moorestown Township council meeting.