If you've lived in Raleigh and/or Charlotte, then you've lived in a big city. The DC area is just more of the same. I live in Raleigh and visit D.C. quite often, and while there are many differences, there are many more similarities. The place is sprawling with suburbs! I'm sure others can give you more details with regard to cost of living. If I were you, I'd probably pick Alexandria, VA and commute via Metrorail. Good luck!
With all the great projects happening downtown, I'm wondering if our city leaders have become too focused on the present. Obviously, there is momentum for downtown development. However, we still need more corporate headquarters, and I have not heard of any announcement beyond RBC Centura. Does anyone know if there is still an effort being made here? Will this momentum stop as quickly as it was started?