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March 7, 2018

Keith Macdonald enters race for town council

Keith Macdonald
Keith Macdonald
• Age: 56

• Home: Winchester Street

• Family: Wife, Etsuko.

• Work: Real estate developer and historical renovator in Warrenton; owner of six commercial and residential properties in town.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Real estate investor Keith Macdonald, 56, announced last week that he will seek an at-large position on the Warrenton Town Council in the May 1 election.

Mr. Macdonald’s entry creates a ballot of four candidates for two seats.

“I’ve been considering (running) for some time,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I’ve often thought about running, because the problems are still here, and now I’ve felt compelled to make that move.

“I decided to run to make fundamental, structural changes to our land use policies in the center of town and to actively solicit businesses to come to town.”

Council members Sean Polster (At-large) and Linda “Sunny” Reynolds (At-large) will seek re-election. Renard Carlos, a product and sales manager for a medical equipment company in Chantilly and a Warrenton native, also announced his candidacy last week.

A Warrenton resident for about 25 years, Mr. Macdonald decided to run because of the lack of change in the town, “particularly in the commercial district,” he said. “I’m dismayed by the pipeline from developers straight through to council without any serious review or consideration of the negative impacts to the community.

“We need to get development that’s quality-of-life enhancing, not profit-enhancing, for developers.”

Mr. Macdonald said the council’s approval of the Walker Drive mixed-use project this year somewhat sparked his interest to run for office.

“It’s exactly the thing the town doesn’t need. They call it a town center, but it’s basically sprawl. It would in fact kill our historic center,” he said. “I’m against special use permits . . . . My attitude to land development is this: If you buy farmland, you’d better be a farmer. If you buy industrial, you’d better be an industrialist.

“Buying land on the cheap and trying to flip it into something for your gain isn’t necessarily good for the community, and Sunny Reynolds is frequently the champion of these sorts of projects,” he said.

If elected, Mr. Macdonald hopes to improve the town’s “economic base” in the historic district by replacing a parking lot with a large building with space for “underground structured parking, retail on grade with residential and office space above it . . . it brings in uniform, retail space that retailers like to move into. It brings in office and residential to keep the place active . . . .

“These (spaces on Main Street) are old buildings. Their uses are somewhat limited — good for office space, good for retail, but most retail won’t touch with a ten foot pole because they can’t affordably turn these into viable spaces.

“Warrenton, if you count the number of storefronts, we have probably half the number in our historic district compared to Culpeper . . . . There’s not enough volume of critical mass,” he said. “When one or two of them shut down because someone retries, it’s a serious impact to your overall economic base.”

Mr. Macdonald said the town should focus on recruiting “unique, lifestyle-enhancing businesses.”

“We don’t need anymore chains, anymore cookie cutters. We need people that bring a unique flavor to this community. We need layer upon layer of that,” he said. “We need to go to downtown D.C. to IT incubator meetings and say, ‘Hey, you can get great space in Warrenton with X dollars a square foot . . . . We have fantastic bike trails’.”

The candidate thinks his “Library 2.0” mixed-use proposal for property he owns at Winchester and Diagonal streets would help stimulate the local economy.

“Entrepreneurs love to see people taking risks and putting their capital in and making things happen. It gives them confidence,” Mr. Macdonald said. “If we’re not willing to invest in ourselves smartly, why should we expect someone to come in here and do it for us?”

Earlier this week, Fauquier County General District Court Judge J. Gregory Ashwell issued a protective order against Mr. Macdonald after an encounter with Ms. Reynolds, whom he hopes to unseat in the spring election.

Will that affect his campaign?

“No,” he replied. “I’m going to be more than capable of being effective, and I’m not at all worried about it.”

Jill Evans, a Warrenton resident and teacher, supports his candidacy.

“I think he has pretty good ideas,” Ms. Evans said. “He’s willing to listen to the people who live in town. I think he’s about business, using money wisely and making good choices about developing the town . . . and bringing business back to Main Street.”

A neighbor of Mr. Macdonald, she added, “I have seen him work on his projects and take his time . . . I think he makes careful decisions, not rash decisions.

“I think his ideas about making more of a cultural center on Main Street is good. I also like his library idea.”

Mr. Macdonald has launched a Facebook campaign page and plans to talk with citizens by going door to door.

“Anybody who knows me, knows that I’m smart and hard-working and I’m completely committed to making a change,” Mr. Macdonald said.

Town council members earn $400 a month and the mayor gets $800 a month. Warrenton’s elected officials also qualify for the same town health insurance coverage that municipal employees receive.

Citizens also will elect a mayor to succeed Powell Duggan, who will step down June 30 after one four-year term. Downtown merchant Carter Nevill and legal assistant Grace Rigby have announced their candidacies for mayor.

Those elected this spring will begin four-year terms July 1.

Warrenton voters will elect council members in the town’s five wards in May 2020.
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ohashala · March 15, 2018 at 12:20 pm
"A neighbor of Mr. Macdonald, she added, “I have seen him work on his projects and take his time . . . I think he makes careful decisions, not rash decisions."

BAHAHAHAHAHAHA! This is an understatement. I strongly agree with Rover 530 and Rgibbs. If Mr. MacDonald isn't finishing his own projects why does he deserve a seat deciding the fate of town projects?
Rover 530 · March 7, 2018 at 9:21 pm
I too have been mystified by Mr. MacDonald's neglect in completing the rehab of his property at the corner of Winchester and Diagonal. Disgraceful. It speaks to what kind of person he may be. The property has been an eyesore for more than a decade and he defies the town's efforts to have him complete the project.

His intimidation of and verbal assault on Vice Mayor Reynolds without provocation in a public setting should alert all Warrenton voters to his character. If he bullies people as a private citizen, will he try to bully members of the town council? Who knows? The voters will have to weigh that.

While some of his comments about the economic state of Warrenton have some validity, can town citizens trust someone of his demeanor and professional history to do anything about the issues?
Rgibbs · March 7, 2018 at 8:47 pm
This announcement inspired me to register to comment. I agree that historic old town needs to be the focus and sprawl contradicts why most citizens appreciate our beautiful town. Speaking of our town’s beauty, I have walked past a number of historic properties Mr. MacDonald has or currently owns. Since 2004, I have walked past them and these properties are complete eyesores. These properties start out in poor shape and end up that way. Sometimes, these properties are bought out by someone else who has the means and the ambition to complete them. The property on the corner of Winchester and Diagonal took more than a decade to get to where it is now which is just enough to have tenants. Soon, that formerly historic property will be knocked down. Mayor Fitch’s former property along Winchester was previously owned by Mr. MacDonald and, for years the front porch roof was supported by 2x4’s. Then Mr. MacDonald cried foul when Mayor Fitch actually completed the renovation which eliminated the eyesore. For years, the town has been at odds with this person revolving around his real estate practices. Somehow, he has been able to acquire more historic property despite this (such as his newest project off of Culpeper St. I do my best not to judge a book by its cover, however, I’m concerned that what I’ve witnessed from afar for so long is a potential reflection of Mr. MacDonald’s practices and intentions as a public official.
robbinnhoodd · March 7, 2018 at 8:20 pm
“Buying land on the cheap and trying to flip it into something for your gain isn’t necessarily good for the community..." says MacDonald. Is he talking about his dilapidated yellow house turned apartments on Winchester Street that has been an eyesore for 20 years that he wants to flip into a library at taxpayer expense? Psychological projection.
TooTrue · March 7, 2018 at 2:03 pm
Another nut. He and Linda Reynolds should work well together if the uninformed voters return her to office and elect hiim. Fortunately other options are available, as is the case in the Mayor's office. Go Grace!
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