The Westport Weston Family Y is set to begin break ground soon on a long-planned new center at its Mahackeno campus in northwest Westport after securing a zoning permit to proceed with construction.

The zoning permit, issued last month, was the last major approval the Y needed to receive from town zoning officials before shovels break ground at the Mahackeno campus.

Y officials now plan a construction start date during the first quarter of this year for a 54,000-square-foot building, which is scheduled to open in late 2014. In the meantime, the Y's operations will stay at the current home at 59 Post Road East.

"It's an important milestone because it allows us to begin physically with the construction of our new facility," Jim Marpe, chairman of the Y's Board of Trustees, said Wednesday of the zoning permit. "It will also help us to continue the fundraising process. It's real to people and this will be a way to draw potential new contributors."

The new Mahackeno center will include an aquatic center with a 10-lane lap pool and an aquatic climbing wall. Y officials have expanded the planned dimensions of the Mahackeno building's lap pool and warm-water teaching/recreational pool after raising more than $340,000 since September in a dedicated capital campaign for the aquatic complex.

The granting of the zoning permit culminates one of the most protracted public reviews of a major land-use project in Westport. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved building a Mahackeno Y in 2008, after a bruising and lengthy round of public hearings. After the P&Z endorsed a Mahackeno site plan, the Y and town then grappled with four lawsuits filed against the project. Two of those suits were filed by resident Arthur Cohen and another two by the citizens group, Y Downtown, which advocated for the Y to stay in the town center. The last of those appeals was rejected in January 2011 by a Superior Court judge in Stamford.

Meanwhile, the Y struggled to meet its fundraising goals for the Mahackeno complex. The Y's Boards of Directors and Trustees voted last year to first build a 54,000-square-foot center, instead of an originally planned 102,000-square-foot building, after falling more than $16 million short of their initial fundraising target.

Since then, the Y's fundraising pace has picked up substantially. With $34.5 million now accumulated to fund the construction, Y officials are $4 million short of their overall $38.5 million fundraising target.

Y officials have reiterated in recent weeks that they still eventually plan to build out the Mahackeno building to a 102,000-square-foot footprint, although they so far have not disclosed a timeline for construction phases. The larger Mahackeno complex would include a gymnastics center and a child-care wing, according to Y officials.

With all zoning approvals secured and all litigation resolved, many erstwhile opponents of the project appear to have accepted that a Mahackeno Y center will be built.

"The project raised so many concerns about the environment, safety and traffic," Indy Goldberg, co-director of Y Downtown, said in an email Thursday. "We hope that the Y will do the right thing and stand by the safeguards and restrictions that the town commissions put in place for the development, and be mindful of the quality of life for all residents during the building and implementation of this project."; 203-255-4561, ext. 118;