FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Shovels hit the ground last week as construction on the first phase of the new Parkwood Southlands development has started.

Construction will focus on commercial development during the first phase, called the ‘Hub of Parkwood’.

“The idea [is to focus on] retail. Small and large retailers that could really service all of Fort St. John and the area, as well as our future property developments,” said Kris Wuthrich, managing director with XJ Evergreen Estates Corp.

Parkwood Southlands, a 200-acre piece of land located across from Ma Murray School, is split into four subzones focusing on mixed-use, commercial, institutional, and residential development. The developers are planning for up to 3,400 new homes to be built.

Approximately 53.45 acres of land, or 25 per cent of the neighbourhood, is being reserved for community parks, private parks and recreational opportunities.

“Our vision is to have that beautiful walking network through the Fish Creek coulee. So that when residents are moving in, they have walking trails, and they do have a great place to go. We have really set aside a large amount of land for Park and wildlife corridor; trying to keep that natural feel,” said Wuthrich.

The first construction phase will cost around $4 million, and the main focus will be attracting retailers to the area.

“It’s really kind of the backbone to our future. Have the amenities before people even move in town, kind of a vision that we had,” said Wuthrich.

The developers are looking to cater to the existing residents in the area that are ‘underserved’ with amenities being available before the development is fully built.

“We’re actively marketing right now. We’ve got Century 21 working with us. The past 16 months have been a trying time, but we have people lined up to come up Fort St. John to take a look at our property and development,” said Wuthrich.

The development has been long in the making, with a portion of the land being brought into city limits in 2015 from the Agricultural Land Commission, which had expanded the city’s western boundary. The developers then worked on their Official Community Plan and zoning with the City.

Construction is being conducted in stages, with stage one being split into two phases focusing on commercial development. Based on the economy and market demand, the developers may begin on the residential portion of Parkwood Southland in stage two.

“There’s quite a bit of infill still within the city already, and lots of that being built out. So, we just really felt that starting with commercial would be the best,” said Brandi Conway, with XJ Evergreen Estates Corp.

The developers plan to begin slowly rolling out the residential lot in the next five years.

“We’re phased out for 20 to 30 years here. This is a long-term build-up. There’s a lot of infrastructure going into property development over the coming years,” said Wuthrich.

Local companies, ACL Construction and Ironhide Contracting, have been contracted for the first phase of development.

“As Fort St. John grows, we want to be that place where good growth can happen.”