After a heated, months-long community debate, Longwood Gardens received the go-ahead from Kennett Township to tear down three historic houses on its sprawing property in southern Chester County.

The three houses date to the 1920s and once housed Longwood employees. Preservationsists say they're prime examples of the work of E. William Martin, who designed a number of buildings in Chester County and Wilmington, Del.

Longwood representatives have argued that they've maintained a number of similar employee houses on their grounds and that demolishing the houses will allow them to create more green space along Route 1.

"We understand [preservationists'] viewpoint -- we simply disagree," Longwood spokeswoman Patricia Evans said.

Before the houses are demolished, the Kennett Township fire company may use them for training purposes, she said.

Preservationists said they were upset by the decision.

"I'm very disappointed, both personally and professionally," said Mary Sue Boyle, the historic preservation consultant for Kennett Township's planning commission.