By a vote of 3 to 2, the Arlington County Board last week granted a temporary use permit to the Vietnam Community Center to operate a day care and community center through June. The Center has been located in Page School since December when the School Board voted to lease it to the Vietnam Refugee Fund at a cost of $2,000 per month.
Several weeks ago during a Tet New Year celebration, Arlington County deputy fire marshall Willis Swartz ordered nearly 1,000 Vietnamese who had crowded into the school to leave. Swartz's abrupt demeanor upset many Vietnamese - many of whom speak little English - who regard Tet as one of their most important holidays.
Swartz's statement that, "That problem I have is communicating with these people," also upset at least one board member, Joseph S. Wholey, who requested that County Manager W. Vernon Ford investigate the incident and report back to the board.
Two citizens' associations near the school, which was closed in June 1977, asked the board to deny the use permit because Page School will be the site of the newly school scheduled to open in September.
But Nguyen Ngoc Bich, president of the Vietnam Refugee Fund, told the board, "The Vietnamese have a stake in rebuilding their life in this area." Bich said a community center is necessary to teach the refugees Englich, provide a meeting place and help them cope with intricacies of American life like filing income tax forms.
Wholey asked county staff about four of the specific conditions detailed in the report that limit the number of people allowed in the center. "Why did the staff feel it necessary to restrict the number of people and hours? It's a large school building."
County planner Tom Parker replied that the conditions were necessary because of the potential impact of large numbers of people of mixed ages.
Bich admitted that he had agreed to the conditions but said, "We had hoped for a certain leeway."
Board member Dorothy T. Grotos said she wanted to ensure that the former school building not be used for "fundraising activities and the manufacture of handicrafts."
"I think there's a mistake," Bich replied. "There's nothing that's sold there. I don't think we plan now or in the future to sell things." Board Vice Chairman Ellen Bozman pointed out that school buildings are used periodically for fundraising events.
Wholey, Bozman and Board Chairman John W. Purdy then voted to grant the use permit. Grotos and Frankland voted against it.
"Two citizens' associations - Lyon Village and Rosslyn-Ballston - requested that the use permit be denied," Frankland explained after the meeting. "Besides they apparently don't need a use permit for most of the things they're doing."
"If the board give them encouragement by voting to grant the permit then (the Vietnamese) will want to stay past June 30," Grotos said.