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Thursday, July 8, 2004 05:03 pm

Party poopers

An architect’s sketch shows the banquet hall Court and Karen Conn want to add to their Inn at 835.

For the people inside the tent, it's a special occasion -- a time to celebrate a wedding, reconnect with cherished friends and favorite relatives, dance with all the bridesmaids, catch the garter, and toast the happy couple.

For the people outside the tent and just across the little street called Canedy, though, it's not such a special occasion. It's the umpteenth wedding of the summer -- just another bride and groom whose disc jockey plays the "Chicken Dance" and "Louie, Louie" at a volume that pounds through the walls and drowns out peace and quiet.

These two views will be pleaded before the Historic Sites Commission on Wednesday when the commission hears a petition from Inn at 835 owners Court and Karen Conn to build a 3,000-square-foot building at 835 S. Second St. to take the place of their big white party tent. The proposed building would roughly double the Conns' capacity for a banquet or reception and allow them to serve liquor until 1 a.m. (They are now restricted to the 10 p.m. closing time for outdoor facilities.)

The Conns' petition -- which will ultimately make its way up through the Planning and Zoning Commission to the Springfield City Council -- pits the interests of a small business whose owners have invested heavily in the preservation and restoration of a historic landmark against residents who call the surrounding neighborhood home.

In the early 1990s, the Conns, who already had a thriving catering business, acquired the main building, formerly the Bell Miller Flats, and soon got the once-elegant apartment house placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Over the next couple of years, they spent more than $1 million transforming the 85-year-old structure into a luxurious bed & breakfast.

The Inn was an immediate success, and it quickly became apparent to the Conns that they had more demand for banquet and reception space than they could accommodate. So, in 2000, they erected a party tent in the Inn's backyard and began hosting soirées under this temporary shelter.

Julie Kemp, who lives behind the Inn on First Street -- "close enough to count the little pearl buttons down the backs of the bridal gowns," she says -- refuses to call it a party tent. She consistently calls it a "circus tent" because of, she says, the clowns she has seen emerging from it.

"They're out there partying their butts off, whooping and hollering, and it's like they're right here in my kitchen," she says.

Kemp, who has lived on First Street for 14 years, at first stewed quietly about the noise because she was leasing her home. In February, though, Kemp and her husband bought the house, and she isn't keeping mum any longer.

"As a renter, I didn't feel like I could complain," she says, "but now I own the house outright."

Conn admits that the neighbors have a right to grouse about racket. "The tent is noisy. It's a tent!" he says. "We're attempting to solve that by building a permanent structure and soundproofing it to the best of our ability."

But Kemp and her neighbors don't believe a building will dampen the decibel levels they've experienced coming from the tent. "There's no guarantee we wouldn't get the kind of noise we're getting now," says Bob Warman, who owns several duplexes bordering the Inn.

They say the current cutoff of 10 p.m. doesn't mean that the noise stops; revelers simply continue their conversations and carousing. The thought that receptions could last as late as 1 a.m. upsets Kemp and Warman.

But Conn says that those most affected by the festivities are the Inn's occupants -- including his own family, which inhabits an apartment on the third floor. "I don't think what we're attempting to do would be a detriment, or we'd actually be shooting ourselves in the foot," he says.

Kemp isn't comforted: "He's getting paid to listen to that music. I don't get paid."

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