The partners operating Haven on the Lake are fighting in court

The Columbia Association (CA) and Still Point Spas partnered to establish Haven on the Lake, a wellness spa in downtown Columbia, in 2014. Now they are battling each other in court and it doesn’t seem a fair fight. Still Point is accusing CA of “pursuing unrelenting legal actions; CA’s strategy seems to be to ‘bully’ the Still Point into leaving, dragging out the legal process so the costs become too great for a small women-owned business to continue.”

The founders of Still Point, Tori Paide and Marla Peoples, are acupuncturists I know from when I worked at Tai Sophia Institute (now MUIH). They are heart-centered people with the utmost integrity. They are also award-winning entrepreneurs and CA wisely partnered with them for their expertise in creating a healing environment and profitable business model.

Tori Paide, left, and Marla Peoples, founders of The Still Point spa at Haven on the Lake in Columbia, one of two locations

Tori and Marla shared their legal struggle with me, and while it’s their side of the story only, many of the elements are indisputable and the overall documentation seems to me compelling. I am sharing their story so that perhaps the court of public opinion might provide some support in their battle against Goliath.

The Still Point Wellness Spas Mission

The Still Point enhances wellness in our communities by providing access to the best integrative mind & body services while enabling wellness practitioners to thrive in a healthy and supportive environment.

Our highly trained practitioners are among the best in the industry and have a genuine passion for their gift of healing. We continuously strive to offer the latest in holistic skincare, massage and complementary medicine. We’re committed to offering personalized services and upholding the highest standards of customer service.

Our expertly-trained practitioners perform their services in beautiful and inviting environments. We seek to maintain an eco-friendly ethos in all aspects of the business, including Toma, a Still Point exclusive brand of personal care products free from animal cruelty, petrochemicals, phthalates, and parabens.

We’ve been voted “Best in DC” by the Washington City Paper year after year. The Still Point nurtures and inspires wellness – changing people’s lives and building healthy communities. We look forward to seeing you at The Still Point!

Summary of the Still Point at Haven situation

by Tori Paide and Marla Peoples

CA selected The Still Point to implement the spa at Haven on the Lake and CA insisted the relationship be structured as a partnership – with each party supplying 50% of the investment/work and, in return, each party would split the profit 50/50 (or share the losses 50/50).

Haven on the Lake website, January 3, 2015,

In fact, per the President’s Report to Columbia Association Board of Directors on November 13, 2014, at President Milton Matthews’ request, Vice-President Goldman gave a Haven on the Lake update regarding membership numbers, opening dates, and the grand opening event.

In response to questions, Mr. Goldman said revenue for the facility will come from memberships, class programs, and the wellness spa.

“CA and Stillpoint will share equally in the profits and losses of the wellness spa, and CA expects Haven on the Lake to break even financially during the third or fourth year of operation.”

For the first 2+ years this relationship generally worked as agreed, as reflected in invoices and payments between the parties based on 50% of profits as reported by The Still Point. This was despite dysfunction with CA’s own Haven Management team (having gone through 2 managers and not supporting the spa as agreed), often requiring Still Point management to step in and support some functions of the other parts of the Haven facility.

The spa did unexpectedly well in year one (roughly $70,000 profit). The projection for the first year had been a negative $50,000, so CA gave The Still Point $25,000 – 50% of the anticipated loss – then took it back after profits were made. The Still Point regularly paid 50% of monthly profits and had one month in the red where CA paid them 50% of the loss; there are emails, invoices, and checks reflecting the agreed upon partnership split.

On December 10, 2015, having completed one year of operations, Dan Burns, Director of Sport and Health, reported to the CA Board of Directors that they expected the wellness spa to lose money during its first year of operations, but instead received $37,000 from its operations to date.

Approaching Year 3, CA abruptly shifted their stance from that of a 50/50 partnership and emphatically approached The Still Point with a take-it-or-leave-it landlord-tenant agreement. Surprised by this, the Still Point engaged legal counsel and tried to negotiate a solution in good faith.

For the past 2 years, the two parties have argued in court about the nature of their business relationship, with The Still Point arguing the existence of a legal partnership and CA’s wrongful termination of their partnership, and CA asserting the existence of a landlord-tenant relationship. CA has since engaged its own case to evict the Still Point. CA has also incrementally made managing the spa more difficult taking actions such as:

  • Cutting the spa off from doing laundry in the facility,
  • Cutting access to spa clients to the Healing Environments for spa guests which resulted in the spa lowering prices,
  • Refusing access to KidSpace if spa guests didn’t pay a day pass plus KidSpace fee,
  • Cutting off spa membership with no notice as well as Haven gift cards to be used at the spa (both have which have balances due to the spa).

CA and their counsel have consistently sought to conceal evidence of CA’s internal records reflecting CA’s adherence to the real agreement between the parties and explicitly refused to respond to discovery requests related to their partnership, without any justification. At the deposition of Rob Goldman, who is a former CA officer and has direct knowledge of the real agreement between the parties, CA’s counsel repeatedly instructed Mr. Goldman not to answer questions related to the partnership or the formation of the so-called “lease” without any justification, and Mr. Goldman refused to answer these questions.

Governor’s Citation to Tori Paide and Marla Peoples, “in recognition of your outstanding record of quality service and commitment to excellence,” June 15, 2016

Before the lawsuit, and in an effort to bring about an amicable resolution to its dispute with CA, The Still Point attempted to find a location in downtown Columbia out of which to operate a spa, and had gotten as far as a letter of intent with the putative landlord. Shortly after, the landlord came to The Still Point and informed them that due to its relationship with CA, The Still Point could not rent any of their downtown retail spaces.

At various points, The Still Point has attempted to negotiate an amicable solution to the standoff, with no positive response from CA. This is more than CA adopting a strategy to vigorously assert its legal position. There are emails, invoices, cleared checks, public statements, meeting minutes and more that document the CA and The Still Point partnership. The Still Point honored the partnership in good faith even after the legal standoff began. CA’s strategy seems to be to ‘bully’ The Still Point into leaving, dragging out the legal process so the costs become too great for a small women-owned business to continue.

Affidavit of Tori Paide with exhibits, April 6, 2017

Second Motion of Reconsideration, April 30, 2018

The women behind The Still Point spas are primed to conquer the wellness market [Excerpts]

by Janene Holzberg (Howard Magazine), January 6, 2016

Five years ago, Marla Peoples made a casual remark to her husband, Dan, that turned out to be a life-changing declaration.

It was an ambitious plan to open a wellness spa with fellow acupuncturist Tori Paide that tumbled out as an “oh, by the way” remark — one that would culminate in the opening of two locations of The Still Point and the launch of a skin care line.

Tori Paide & Marla Peoples were given the Entrepreneurial Success Award by the Small Business Administration – Maryland, June 15, 2016. They are pictured at the award ceremony with Columbia Association management representatives Dan Burns, Director of Sport and Fitness; Dennis Mattey, Director of Open Space & Facility Services; and Milton Matthews, President.

Paide, who is 43 and lives in Ellicott City, boils it down this way: “Our common denominator isn’t acupuncture or making jewelry,” which they sold together for a while. “It’s having the guts to take entrepreneurial risks. A lot of people have creative ideas, but that fearless step has to happen in order for an idea to become a reality.”

“We both gravitate toward people who think big and out-of-the-box,” says Peoples, a 46-year-old Elkridge resident, of the partners’ affinity for boldness in personal and business relationships.

The Still Point currently employs 75 practitioners who work as massage therapists, acupuncturists, nutrition coaches and Reiki masters.

Rob Goldman, the now-retired Columbia Association vice president who was in charge of opening Haven on the Lake, chose the co-owners to provide spa and integrative health services in the luxury waterfront wellness retreat.

“Tori and Marla stood out because they are not only creative and innovative experts in their fields, but solid business professionals,” Goldman says. “I was impressed by their energy and enthusiasm.”

Aside from the spas, . . . . Toma, their line of natural skin care and wellness products, has become one of their most promising business ventures.

Tori Paide and Marla Peoples launched their own line of all-natural skin care and wellness products, called Toma, in 2013

Since the partners view Toma as a freestanding line, not just a Still Point spa product, it’s also sold at the Columbia Whole Foods, Cloud 9 Salon in Clarksville and Potomac Massage Training Institute in Silver Spring. They also hope to add more products this year and to place the line in competitors’ spas.

In preparation for such an expansion, they are searching for new corporate offices and warehouse space in a mixed-use facility after outgrowing their Sterrett Place location in Columbia in two years.

“Being two women business owners isn’t easy,” Peoples says. “The Howard County Economic Development Authority not only gave us a loan, they have been very supportive.”

Larry Twele, CEO of the development authority, says he’s glad the partners decided to become part of the redevelopment of downtown Columbia:

“Their passion and drive are a great example of the entrepreneurial spirit that thrives in Howard County.”

Resident Speakout, Columbia Association Board of Directors, April 26, 2018

Ingrid Pyne, a former Still Point at Haven on the Lake employee , shared her concerns at this Resident Speakout. (Click on image for Columbia Association video, then choose Item 5; Pyne is the first speaker)

Statement by the Columbia Association

“The original lawsuit was initiated by The Still Point, and its allegations were already heard and dismissed by a Howard County judge last year as having no merit,” said David Greisman, a Columbia Association spokesman. “The Still Point has chosen to continue the litigation, repeatedly appealing decisions that were in favor of Columbia Association. CA believes that The Still Point’s current appeal will similarly be denied. Columbia Association will not comment further at this time due to the pending appeal.”


Substance abuse is prevalent in Howard County. What are we doing about it?

Actually, Howard County is not unusual in the extent of our substance use and abuse. And like everywhere else, addiction follows for too many of us. Whether addiction is to a licit or illicit drug, the results to one’s well-being are much the same.  Given that addicts are from all walks of life, all income groups, all races and creeds, it’s difficult to argue that imprisonment is the best solution. And most folks need help to recover from an addiction. Here’s a primer on addiction and what help is available in the HoCo.

Prevalence of Substance Use in the United States

According to SAMHSA’s [Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) – 2014 (PDF | 3.4 MB), about two-thirds (66.6%) of people aged 12 or older reported in 2014 that they drank alcohol in the past 12 months, with 6.4% meeting criteria for an alcohol use disorder. Also among Americans aged 12 or older, the use of illicit drugs has increased over the last decade from 8.3% of the population using illicit drugs in the past month in 2002 to 10.2% (27 million people) in 2014. Of those, 7.1 million people met criteria for an illicit drug use disorder in the past year.

The misuse of prescription drugs is second only to marijuana as the nation’s most common drug problem after alcohol and tobacco, leading to troubling increases in opioid overdoses in the past decade. An estimated 25.2% (66.9 million) of Americans aged 12 or older were current users of a tobacco product. While tobacco use has declined since 2002 for the general population, this has not been the case for people with serious mental illness where tobacco use remains a major cause of morbidity and early death.

[The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.]

Location hunt underway for county’s first detox center

by Kate Magill (Howard County Times), July 18, 2017 [EXCERPTS]

As Maryland continues its battle against opioid abuse, Howard County is taking steps toward opening its first residential detoxification center, something officials say is desperately needed and overdue. Continue reading Substance abuse is prevalent in Howard County. What are we doing about it?

How government and nonprofit services came to be in HoCo

Forty-six years ago, as rural Howard County was being inundated by Columbia, a three-day charrette was held to consider what human service needs should be addressed by government and nonprofit organizations. Organized by the Association of Community Services and Howard Community College, the charrette was attended by some 335 people, including citizens, providers, community leaders, new Countians and old Countians. 

They overcame distrust, suspicions and competing interests to reach consensus on a report that is excerpted here. Many ideas were visionary, others just practical, some misguided. The goals they outlined are a measure of how far we’ve come in nearly half a century, and point to what more we have to do to create the city and county that James Rouse envisioned  – a place that provides for the growth of people.

It all started with James Rouse

In 1969, James Rouse created the Columbia Foundation [now the Community Foundation of Howard County] the first community foundation in the state of Maryland.  He and members of the founding board had the prescience to realize that the new town of Columbia would continue to grow and attract new residents and would have pressing needs for decades to come.

[James Rouse stated], “We have always envisaged bringing into being the coordinating leadership, on a continuing basis, to overlook the quality of life of the city; assert entrepreneurial initiative to bring into being new institutions as required; encourage existing institutions to spread their services to areas not covered or avoid unnecessary duplications”.

[In] 1971, the Foundation awarded its first grant to the Association of Community Services of Howard County to “explore human services needs and possible approaches.” Continue reading How government and nonprofit services came to be in HoCo

There is Human Trafficking in Howard County

A man was charged with forcing four women into prostitution in Howard County this week. Kudos to the Howard County Police Department for their targeted efforts to arrest human trafficking. This is my post from a year ago, updated with the latest report.

Howard police arrest Baltimore man at Laurel motel in latest human trafficking case

by Andrew Michaels (Howard County Times), August 2, 2017 [ABRIDGED]

A Baltimore man was charged Wednesday with the human trafficking of four women in Howard and Prince George’s counties following a nearly two-week investigation by Howard County police.

Kamal Germaine Dorchy, 43, faces multiple counts of human trafficking, the police announced. He is being held without bond at the Howard County jail.

This investigation is part of Howard County’s ongoing efforts to stop prostitution and human trafficking. There have been almost as many human trafficking cases this year as there were in all of 2016. Continue reading There is Human Trafficking in Howard County

Human Services delivery in Howard County now enhanced with new Nonprofit Center

Howard County is creating a model of collaboration for the delivery of human services.  The New Howard County Nonprofit Center has opened at Patuxent Woods Drive in Columbia. My post about the plans for the Center is here.  The offices will soon be part of a larger Community Resources Campus when several Howard County government offices move to adjacent buildings. 

The Campus will be a one-stop shop for folks in need of assistance. It is centrally located at Broken Land and Snowden River Parkways, and is on several RTA bus routes. 

Proximity can serve to enlarge the world view among participants and foster innovation, for the benefit of the organizations and the clients. It requires the commitment of the agencies to make it happen, and our encouragement. 

Nonprofit center model comes to Columbia

by Fatimah Waseem (Columbia Flier), April 28, 2017

A vision floated more than two decades ago to bring local nonprofit organizations and human service agencies under one roof is materializing in a small corporate park in Columbia.

A dozen local agencies and organizations have moved into the nonprofit center at 9770 Patuxent Woods Drive, which will serve as their headquarters and as a Continue reading Human Services delivery in Howard County now enhanced with new Nonprofit Center

Current Status of Charter Schools in Maryland

Public Charter Schools have the potential to improve our education of elementary and secondary school students. I’ve learned this from my work the last eight years facilitating more effective financial management of these schools. It is disappointing, therefore, that Maryland/Howard County has made so little commitment to Public Charter Schools.  It is equally troubling that there is not better understanding of  what charter schools are. 

I have found that the agencies operating Charter Schools, like the nonprofit world in general, range from ineffective but well-intentioned, to cutting edge and well-managed. The former schools need to be closed by the authorizer. The latter need to be replicated for the good of all our kids. But there are real obstacles to charter schools achieving their potential in Maryland. Here’s a primer on what Charter Schools are all about.

Continue reading Current Status of Charter Schools in Maryland

National Night Out in HoCoMD Builds Community Partnership

The neighbors on our cul-de-sac in Clary’s Bright Passage, Hickory Ridge, Columbia, Md. are hosting an ice cream social for National Night Out (NNO) on August 2nd. The block party will be great fun, and serve to strengthen our neighborhood with more connections among neighbors.

Howard County Police will also be participating, a great example of community policing (“to protect and serve”). In light of the recent shootings of Cops in Dallas and Baton Rouge, it’s important we thank our First Responders, that they truly get how grateful we are for their protection.

And we need to do our part to establish partnership. Citizens will feel safer, and it makes it more likely a Cop will hear when he or she has screwed up.

There are over twenty other community-hosted parties being organized throughout Howard County. Click here for the local event near you: Continue reading National Night Out in HoCoMD Builds Community Partnership