Most developers approach obtaining municipal approvals like most people approach going to the dentist- i.e., just get it over with, and inflict the least amount of pain possible. Developing real estate is challenging enough without having to navigate what can be rather perverse permissioning requirements, that much I can understand. However, most local Planning Boards are more than fair with developers/applicants, and in reality only a small percentage of projects get denied. It is more common for local Boards to deny land use entitlements (i.e. zoning changes, variances, special use permits) than site plan applications, which invariably are permitted uses.
Some Planning Departments are actually so generous they will grant developers project approvals without even requiring the developer to submit full engineering and architectural plans. Essentially, projects can be approved without the applicant/engineer actually designing much, short of a rough site plan and a computerized building rendering. The problem with this, of course, is that the local government doesn't really know what it is approving. They might have a general idea, but the devil is always in the details, and things like lighting and fences and dumpsters can make for upset neighbors. And chances are the project will be changed since the design considerations haven't been worked out. This usually means the applicant will be back to the Planning Board requesting various project changes, or dealing with staff if these requests can be done administratively.
There are usually competing demands to be considered. On one hand, the developer doesn't want to have to pay for upfront engineering/architectural services that may not be neccessary to get the approval. On the other hand, the local government may not be able to determine whether the project meets all the applicable regulations without plans which depict all the neccessary details.
As a municipal planner, I'm always struggling to get developers to fully design projects. I know the answer is to have stricter zoning and design requirements, but this is not always acceptable to City Managers and politicians who generally don't value design and often share a "just build it" mentality with developers.
I'd like to hear various perspectives on this issue, hopefully from both private consultants (dark-siders)and other municipal planners. Is this a problem in your jurisdiction? Why/Why not?