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Mark Litchford

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After a three-year legal battle, two families who say the city has taken their taxes but shorted them on services seem likely to finally have their day in court.

James Little and Lucy Fryar sued the city in May 2011, saying the city has never provided promised services -- such as sewer, street maintenance and street lighting -- for their properties, which were annexed in 1972. A trial date has been set for Sept. 24 in Hamilton County Chancery Court.

Little and Fryar each own property at the east end of O'Grady Drive in the Cash Canyon region of Lookout Valley, according to court filings. Little has 102 acres at 3104 Scenic Waters Lane, and Fryar's property is at 1418 O'Grady Drive.

The lawsuit claims the city never made city sewer or stormwater sewer connections available, and that the roads in the area are out of standard, lacking in lane delineation and width requirements.

Yet Fryar has paid the city property taxes for 36 years, since 1978, and Little has paid since he bought his land in 1999.

They first asked for their property to be de-annexed, as their neighbors' 1,300 acres had been in 2003, but the City Council denied their request in 2009.

Their lawsuit claims the city failed to meet a plan of services defined in the 1972 annexation, illegally annexed other properties without first meeting its obligations to theirs and enriched itself unjustly with their combined tax dollars.

The lawsuit asks the court to prevent the city from annexing further property and make the city provide services. It also asks that the city be made to refund Little's and Fryar's taxes, with interest, and to pay their court costs.

Mark Litchford, an attorney for Little and Fryar, said he could not comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

In its response, the city argues that Little has sewer access by way of Burgess Road, but he has chosen not to connect. Additionally, there is stormwater piping in the area that feeds directly to the Tennessee River, and neither Little nor Fryar have been charged stormwater fees. Chattanooga also argues it has offered to provide services if Little developed his property, which would increase the area population and need, but Little withdrew his plans.

With reference to the 1972 annexation, the city said the conditions were met to supply the needs of the handful of farms that existed then, so the city met its obligations.

"Public funds should not be expended only to benefit the private development of plaintiffs' properties, which are only accessed by private easements subject to specific development conditions," according to the city's answer to the complaints.

Further, the city claims in court filings there is no authority to refund taxes back to residents more than one year after the payment.

City Attorney Wade Hinton said Thursday he could not comment on pending litigation.

The city already has lost a related court case.

In February 2014, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ordered the city to pay $70,000 to Rebecca Little, James Little's daughter.

She sued Chattanooga in 2011 because the city failed to provide public documents she requested about the 1972 annexation. That included emails passed among city officials about her requests, along with maps and sewer-related documents concerning the area.

Chancellor W. Frank Brown III first heard the case and ruled against Rebecca Little, but the higher court twice overturned Brown's rulings.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon atlbrogdon@timesfreepress.com,@glbrogdoniv on Twitter or at 423-757-6481.

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