Side Street Cafe

Cups and saucers covered in silt from flooding at Side Street Cafe in Cockeysville on Friday, Sept. 16. (Jen Rynda, Patuxent Publishing / September 15, 2011)

A week after flash floods sprung up all across Baltimore County, the lunch crowd on York Road was still pulling fruitlessly into the parking lot in front of Side Street Cafe.

But instead of a hefty serving of the familiar — including a greeting from owner Ozzie Medizadeh and his staff, who know many of their customers by name — patrons have been greeted by clean-up crews in orange shirts and dust masks gutting the small but popular restaurant off York Road.

When the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee stalled over Baltimore County and dumped as much as 8 inches of rain, Beaverdam Run rushed over its banks and rose several feet.

The stream bottlenecked at a bridge 50 yards behind the restaurant and surrounding businesses, pushing water all the way to York Road and leaving Side Street Cafe and several other businesses coping with 3 feet of water.


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"I watch every move this river makes," Medizadeh said this week as clean-up crews continued their work. " This all happened in a matter of 20 minutes."

In that time, Medizadeh saw the business that he and his employees have built for 13 years sink.

Mike O'Shea, who owns the property, was still upset about the damage a week later.

"Truly, truly devastating," he said. "Ozzie has a tremendous following. People just come there for his lunch. It's amazing that a little place like that satisfies so many people.

"We're going to get him reopened," O'Shea said.

The cleanup began Sept. 13, with 3 feet of warped materials cut from the base of the walls. Wednesday, workers were pulling insulation from the wall interiors and stripping the floors.

O'Shea hopes the work will be done and the restaurant reopened by Oct. 1, but Medizadeh is concerned that it's going to take more than freshly painted walls and new tiles to make his place viable again.

"I can fix this again, but if nothing is done to reduce the chance of flooding again, what's the point?" he said. "I'm not saying you can make it not a flood zone, but you can reduce the number of times this happens.

"A lot of people still come in," Medizadeh said. "Everyone sends me their prayers, but I say please give your public officials a call. Show that we're united in this."

Ongoing problem

Tropical Storm Lee produced the third damaging flood in the past two months for Side Street Cafe — the last was July 8, when wood from a nearby lumber plant washed into the stream during a storm and clogged a tunnel outlet.

County Councilman Todd Huff, who represents the 3rd District — and who owns a business just down the road from the affected area — said officials from the county's public works, planning, and environmental protection and conservation are "working diligently to come to a good conclusion for the issue."

"This past flood was a disaster for a lot of Baltimore County, but this particular area is a constant, ongoing problem, whereas a lot of the other flooding wasn't typical. That's why we have some things in the works."

Huff said he couldn't discuss specifics of the county's plans, but said he has "a lot of passion" to help the business owners he's known for years, and some kind of solution may soon be reached.

"It's devastating how much they've had to go through," Huff said.

Along with Side Street Cafe, Tom Longo, who owns the building next door that houses a church and appliance store, and Steve Smoot, owner of The Barnyard, a store that sells sheds and playgrounds, suffered significant damage.

"I lose everything every time it floods," Smoot said. "There was 3 feet of water in my office. I get hit the worst out of anybody except for Ozzie."

Sheldon Epstein, a public works engineer who has been examining the area, said the businesses' location in a flood plain make them susceptible to flooding, regardless of the bridge or any other public works solution.

"The volume of water that gets down there causes the flooding," Epstein said. "The flood plain would be altered minutely, but it would still be prone to flooding with or without the bridge."

Medizadeh made his case to three county emergency management employees Sept. 14 as they stopped by to assess the damage and see whether the county could qualify for FEMA emergency funds.

To be eligible for FEMA individual assistance funds, which are separate from public assistance funds available to the state and county, there need to be a minimum number of instances of major home or business damage reported in the county. In FEMA's eyes, flooded basements don't qualify as major damage.

Still, Steve Welzant, of the county's emergency management agency, said FEMA's individual assistance is meant only to get people whose damage exceeds their insurance coverage back on their feet.

Regardless of whether they qualify for federal aid, Medizadeh is skeptical his business can survive in its current location without improvements to the area.

"They always say if you work hard, you will make it work," he said. "It doesn't matter this time."