STANHOPE - Downtown...it evokes an image of shoppers laden with packages, and bargain hunters browsing in antique shops, while young couples push baby strollers as they window shop. And it would appear that's the image that Stanhope has for its downtown area. For almost a year, a committee has been brainstorming ideas to renew the commercial vitality of the district. In order to do that, the borough council wants to promote the conversion of ground level spaces, many of which are now residential, back to retail use. As a way to speed up this the process, the municipality is considering a five-year tax abatement on commercial properties as an incentive for property owners to return their buildings to their original facades and to reestablish retail stores. The plan will not change taxes an owner pays at the present time, but would drastically suppress or reduce for five years the taxes due on improvements done to the property. The program, which would be available to 67 properties in the business sector of town, would forgive all taxes on the improvements done to a property the first year. The amount of taxes due on the improvements would increase by 20 percent each year for the remaining four years. Property owners would not have to pay a full tax bill on the improvements made to their properties until the sixth year. "We are anxious to get this in place because this might be the way to get commercial owners to consider upgrading properties," said Councilman Brian Murphy at a recent borough meeting. If the measure is adopted, Municipal Clerk Antoinette Battaglia said, the plan would be available to properties on both sides of the street of Main Street to Route 183 from number 81 through 185 and on Route 206 and Route 183 from number 241 through 275. To qualify, the property must be zoned commercial or must be changed from residential to commercial. The borough's tax assessor would determine if the improvements proposed by a property owner meet the qualification for the tax abatement. "We are not forcing people to improve their properties," said Kuncken, "It's an incentive to improve the property." She added, "The benefit is that no one's current taxes change, but while we are offering a tax break for a period of five years on improvements, by the sixth year, we will have a higher valued property on the tax rolls." The proposal was approved by the members of the land use board and will be sent back to council for further action.